Public Lands on the Ballot

Before you vote, identify those candidates who share your passion

By Rob Breeding

Unless you’re in the mask business, 2020 has been a lousy year. Well, there’s another bright spot: public lands.

The Great American Outdoors Act was finally passed after a long effort to get a bill to the desk of President Donald Trump, who signed it into law in August.

The act had two main components: permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million per year and authorizing $9.5 billion to be used over five years to address the maintenance backlog in national parks.

Since he’s not on the ballot next month, this seems a good time to give Sen. Jon Tester props for his role in getting the outdoors act over the line. He was one of the bill’s sponsors and first introduced legislation to fix the land and water fund a decade ago.

But this was a bipartisan effort. The U.S. House approved the bill 310-107, and in the Senate the yeas took the day, 73-25. Sen. Steve Daines was also a sponsor, and just about everyone running for statewide office in Montana backed the legislation.

That near universal support illustrates how Montana remains different politically from its neighboring states. While both Montana senators worked for the legislation’s passage, all six senators from nearby red states — Idaho, Wyoming and Utah — voted against it.

Montana is neither red nor blue but purple, albeit reddish purple. And that willingness of Montana voters to back candidates from either party works in favor of hunters, anglers and other outdoor types. Politicians who get on the wrong side of an issue such as the Stream Access Law, for instance, run the risk of soon becoming ex-politicians.

The politics of Montana and another purple state, blueish-purple Colorado, were key in getting the outdoors act across the finish line. Both states have competitive senate races this year, competitive being the key word. Each is represented by one Democratic and one Republican senator, and all four senators supported the legislation.

And when some of those outdoors act dollars find their way to those Rocky Mountain states where legislators opposed the bill, hunters and anglers in there will owe Montanans and Coloradans their gratitude.

October is a great time to do a little outdoor voter Election Day prep. You want to know what your potential representative supports when it comes to public lands and access. Do they support public lands, both in terms of their existence and possible expansion, as well as funding for their continued upkeep? There are management costs associated with all public lands, even pristine wilderness.

You also want to know where they stand on access. Are they in favor of increasing public access to public lands? You might think everyone’s on board with public land access, but that’s not always the case. For starters, not everyone is in favor of public lands at all. Fortunately, the sell-public-lands movement has mostly been beaten back for now in the face of strong opposition from public landowners, i.e., taxpayers.

If you’ve spent much time fishing in states across the West it’s easy to develop a special appreciation for Montana’s Stream Access Law. Montana is the gold standard, making it easy for folks to access its navigable rivers and streams. That access has also fostered legions of small businesses and self-employed contractors who navigate those waters all summer long, guiding anglers and river lovers downstream.

You don’t have to be a hunter or angler to appreciate public lands. You don’t even need to be a public land user. Ownership is enough, an ownership you share with your fellow citizens and visitors. For me, just knowing there are accessible open spaces nearby is a constant reminder of the sacredness of the American democratic experiment.

Before you vote, identify those candidates who share your passion.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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