Opinion

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Guest Column

Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

Pull back the curtain and it’s pretty clear that the end game here is not to transfer public lands to the state, but to “transfer them” once and for all, to private hands

Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

Montanans for Multiple Use and disgruntled former Forest Service employee Clarence Taber should be careful what they wish for. They seem to be wishing for a Montana without national forests, and without multiple use.

Taber writes that it’s time to “consider” transferring national forests out of federal hands (Sept. 24 Beacon: “It’s Time to Consider Transferring Public Lands”). This is a slippery slope that prudent Montanans steer clear of.

It’s ironic to see some of the same Montana politicians who, only a session ago, called for “no net gain” of state land in Montana now say the state should take over vast acreages. It’s comical to watch fiscal conservatives squirm to avoid questions of how the state coffers would cover such staggering new costs.

These ideas are not coming from the good folks at MFMU. They are coming from a slick attorney’s office in Salt Lake City, where lawyers argue that public lands, from Yellowstone on down to the Flathead National Forest, are somehow unconstitutional.

Pull back the curtain and it’s pretty clear that the end game here is not to transfer public lands to the state, but to “transfer them” once and for all, to private hands. The out-of-staters behind this idea think that all states should be like Texas, nearly entirely devoid of public lands.

Consider that right now in Montana, some Texas oilmen (the Wilks Brothers) who own a big ranch near Lewistown are harassing hunters, throwing up fences and driving elk off federal BLM lands adjacent to their ranch. They want the elk to themselves.

Just this fall, a Saudi Arabian prince paid $300,000 for a “governor’s tag” to hunt bighorn sheep in Montana. A princely sum to hunt one sheep! What would he pay for a private canyon or mountain range of bighorn sheep? (No offense to Saudis or princes; in his shoes I might do the same!)

Montanans for Multiple Use has long been an effective and eloquent voice for increasing logging and motorized access on our public lands. They are drifting dangerously far from their mission and on the edge of an ideological precipice.

Sure, the Forest Service is an underachieving agency. But we can improve it without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Northwestern Montana without the Flathead or Kootenai National Forests would be a much lesser place.

Once our public lands are gone, there is no getting them back.

Ben Long lives in Kalispell

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