Guest Column

Supreme Court Race A Clear Choice for Outdoorspeople

Montanans who support public lands, public access, wildlife, water, and clean air – as well as our state Constitution and impartial justice over special interests – need to re-elect Justice Ingrid Gustafson

By Dave Chadwick and Bruce Farling

Montana’s public lands, clean rivers and streams, and abundant wildlife are the envy of hunters, anglers, backpackers, floaters and other outdoor recreationists from around the world.  We are lucky to have laws in place that ensure our natural resources are protected and open to the public, as well as a State Constitution which specifically protects our right to a clean and healthful environment.

November’s Supreme Court election, in which sitting Justice Ingrid Gustafson is being challenged by professional lobbyist James Brown, will have grave consequences for these legal protections, our right to access our public lands and waters and the future of our outdoor traditions.

Justice Gustafson has served as a judge for almost 20 years and has a track record of being a fair and independent jurist who carefully considers the evidence and the law before making decisions. As a result of her thoughtful and balanced approach, Gustafson has protected our rights under the Montana Constitution, our outdoor traditions and our freedom to hunt, fish, hike and spend time outdoors with our families.

Brown is well-known in Helena for his long career as a paid professional lobbyist. Over the years, he has worked as a hired gun for special interests from bankers to funeral directors to woolgrowers to the energy industry. 

One of Mr. Brown’s most disturbing connections is his long relationship with the so-called “Citizens for Balanced Use.” This radical organization has a long history of advocating against environmental protection, clean water, and public lands. They seek to open up our public lands to more motor vehicle traffic, more mining and more development.  They have opposed the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has funded trails, fishing access sites and parks all over Montana. They support the giveaway of national forests and other national public lands to state control, which every expert says will lead to those lands being sold off and locked up by private interests. Brown even sued the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the organization just a few weeks before declaring his candidacy.

Hunters, anglers and other outdoorspeople should be deeply concerned about the prospect of someone with Brown’s agenda holding a seat on the Supreme Court. Will he protect our Stream Access Law and the rights of hunters and hikers to use public roads to access public lands, or will he side with special interests that seek to profit from closing off public access? Will he reinforce the precedent that our Constitution protects our clean air and clean water, or will he side with out-of-state industrial developers who want to mine and pollute our lands and waters?

Fortunately, we have a better choice. Justice Gustafson is not a politician or paid lobbyist. She was first appointed as a District Court judge by Republican Gov. Judy Martz and re-elected three times before her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2017. As a judge and justice, she has distinguished herself through her impartial consideration of the cases brought before her. Montanans depend on a justice having that kind of balanced commitment to uphold the laws that protect our lands, waters, and access.

Judicial elections don’t always present such a clear choice for our natural resources and outdoor traditions. Montanans who support public lands, public access, wildlife, water, and clean air – as well as our state Constitution and impartial justice over special interests – need to re-elect Justice Ingrid Gustafson.

Dave Chadwick is a former executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation. Bruce Farling is a former executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. 

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