Guest Column

Defending Our Way of Life

Through backdoor efforts during the 2021 Montana Legislature, actions were taken to award hunting tags to those who have more wealth or more land than other citizens

By Rachel Schmidt

Being a Montanan is a state of mind, not how long you’ve lived within its borders. It’s about why you choose to be a Montanan. It’s a set of core principles and beliefs – some codified in our Constitution – about what we value and how we choose to use and enjoy the many gifts of this incredible land. But if special interests and short-sighted members of the Montana Legislature get their way this fall and during the next legislative session, it won’t matter if you’ve been here for seven months or seven generations. Montana just won’t be Montana anymore. 

By Constitution and culture, Montanans demand the right for every citizen to hunt and fish regardless of wealth or birthright, our right to a clean and healthful environment, and even our first-in-the-nation stream access law which guarantees every person access to our streams, rivers, and lakes. Unfortunately, certain politicians in the last Legislature sought to undo 100 years of work that makes Montana what it is today.

Montanans have consistently chosen to manage our jointly owned resource, collectively known as our public trust, of wildlife, public land, and public water, for all people, offering opportunity and access to all regardless of financial means. We have always strived to balance use between all users. In 2021, select politicians and special interests ignored the established will of we the people of Montana and, through backdoor efforts, actions were taken to award hunting tags to those who have more wealth or more land than other citizens. While this is the way some other states choose to manage their wildlife, this is not how we want to operate. Numerous state and federal programs already operate, in alignment with the desired management of our public trust, to assist landowners in the management of our wildlife on their private land; that effort is not in alignment. 

Two additional proposals of the session included an egregious violation of private property rights through an effort to prohibit private landowners from selling their land to buyers of their choice, and an effort to eradicate Montana of prescriptive easements to access public lands that we all jointly own as citizens of Montana and the United States. The loss of those easements would remove access to millions of acres of public land and are destined to pit neighbor versus neighbor and divide us from our shared Montana values. Earlier this year, two elected officials on the land board voted against conserving a parcel of public land enjoyed by all Montanans because they were more interested in subdividing this land for development than seeing its existing value to the citizens of this state. These same politicians have promised their donors within special interests that they will continue their efforts in the upcoming legislative session.

The Montana Public Trust Coalition formed in response to these assaults on our public trust. It is a grass-roots coalition of individuals, past public servants, organizations, and businesses from across Montana, coming from every political persuasion, and they are asking all legislative candidates if they will promise to defend our Constitution (as required by their oath of office), in particular our right to hunt and fish as well as a clean and healthful environment and to reject any effort to reduce or privatize items already in the public trust for Montanans. Montana is facing the consequences of having allowed our narrative and way of life to be coopted to feed the greed and advancement of a few. If you, each individual citizen of Montana, do not act now you will lose the reasons that make you choose to call Montana home.

Please join The Montana Public Trust Coalition and reach out to all legislative candidates and ask them to defend our Constitution, our right to hunt and fish, our right to a clean and healthful environment and to not devalue the public trust. 

You can see the pledge, the story, the supporters and sign on to join the efforts here: www.montanapublictrustcoalition.com.

Thanks for taking the time to defend Montana, our constitution, and our way of life.

Rachel Schmidt lives in Whitefish. 

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