Let’s Find Solutions to Land and Wildlife Management Issues

Clearly, much of our public land is not well managed

By Lesley Robinson

In Phillips County, we’re well known for our strong ranching community. However, we also have some terrific hunting that attracts sportsmen and women from all over the state and nation every fall.

We, as ranchers, have a tremendous appreciation for the wildlife, and we provide both habitat and water sources for that wildlife. From antelope to elk, to mule deer and whitetails, to upland game birds, we are blessed with a large array of game animals.

This is why our ranch, the Lazy JD Cattle Company, is proud to take part in the Block Management program and open our land to hunters. With a good local game warden, Block Management is a great example of how landowners, hunters, and state officials can work together for mutually beneficial outcomes regarding public access and land management.

Hunting and public access are part of Montana’s heritage and part of why we love this great state so much.

Greg Gianforte and I share these values. He’s an avid sportsman and a member of the NRA.

In a recent interview with Hunt Talk Radio’s Randy Newberg he said, “To be clear, I oppose any plan that would jeopardize keeping public lands public.”

This is an absolute. No one wants to see public land sold off. However, we have to be forward thinking and innovative when it comes to solving the current problems in our public lands management.

When it comes to the transfer of federal public lands to state ownership, we are opposed. However, we do think that there are ideas worth looking at that would involve greater local control over public land.

There is currently a proposed pilot project in the Kootenai National Forest that would have the federal government contract with Lincoln County for management of part of the forest. These are the kinds of innovative ideas that we should be looking at for solving land management issues. Under this proposal, the forest sees greater local management, yet very much remains public land.

Clearly, much of our public land is not well managed. Our forests suffer from beetle kill and we are subject to massive wildfires every summer.

For southern and eastern Montana, many of my fellow ranchers and farmers feel ignored in the debate over the reintroduction of bison onto public lands and the potential listing of sage grouse on the Endangered Species List. Bison, of course, do not respect private property boundaries, and the dangers of brucellosis leave those of us who depend on cattle for our living nervous.

I know many landowners who have pulled out of Block Management all together in protest of these measures. This is unfortunate, because it simply means less access for hunters.

What we need in Helena is an administration that, once again, fosters a collaborative relationship between the stakeholders in land management. Everybody wants good land management, robust public access, and respect for private property rights. We need leadership in Helena that will bring landowners, hunters and anglers, and government officials together to reach common sense solutions to these issues.

We need an administration that will listen to what the people on ground are saying about land management. As a rural county commissioner, I can say that there has been a major breakdown in trust over the last several years between state and local officials over land management issues.

Unfortunately, the current administration in Helena only seems to want the status quo. Our forests continue to suffer from beetle kill and catastrophic wildfires. Lawsuits tie up forest management projects. The agriculture community finds itself increasingly at odds with state and federal officials. Landowners are needlessly pitted against hunters and anglers.

The lack of leadership in Helena has put us on a divisive path. It has taken us away from the principles of collaboration and will only lead to less access. Let’s get back on track with new leaders in Helena who will bring sportsmen and landowners together, and ultimately lead to more access for Montana’s hunters and anglers.

Lesley Robinson is a fourth generation Montana rancher, a Phillips County commissioner, and a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Montana.