Transfer Of Public Lands Could Benefit Us All
Last weekend protesters descended upon the Montana State Capitol to express their disdain against the idea that Montanans can responsibly govern our own lands and resources. Many of them have been fed a lie that somebody would sell off all our public lands if Montana took control of them. The fatal flaw of their thinking is a failure to recognize that nobody cares more for our state than the people who live right here in it.
Montanans treasure the scenic splendor and abundant natural riches of this beautiful place that we call home. When it comes to our public lands, pretty much all of us desire abundant recreation, safe, vibrant communities, and healthy air, water, and wildlife.
Unfortunately, federal mismanagement of 25 million acres in Montana has been increasingly marked by catastrophic wildfires, smoke filled summers, polluted water, decimated wildlife, blocked access, and economic decline. A history of slow or poor decision making by Washington DC politicians and out-of-state administrators has caused unnecessary hardships, multi-million disasters, and cost way too many lives.
As more and more people realize that we can and must do better, more and more people are realizing it is time to bring land management decisions closer to home — where they belong. Yes it is time to have an honest conversation about how the transfer of federal lands to the States could benefit us all.
For example, few realize that when it comes to public land management, western States out–perform federal land managers by an average of 10:1 or better. In fact, the federal government consistently loses money on their version of land management while States who govern their own lands consistently generate positive cash flows.
Millions of acres of State-owned lands currently host a variety of activities including farming, ranching, logging, mining, parks, wilderness, hunting, fishing, historic preservation, wildlife preserves, and recreation. Active, balanced management of State lands keeps fire hazard at a minimum and generates funds for management of the land.
In spite of these facts, certain left-wing political and environmental groups are trying to convince us that Montana is not capable of responsibly governing our own lands and resources. The notion that we can’t afford it, or that we would sell off all our majestic mountains and hang “no trespassing” signs on all our favorite fishing holes are their favorite preposterous talking points.
They also like to say the State would drive ranchers off the land. Keep in mind, the federal government and #KeepItFederal radical environmentalists are the ones who have been trying to do that for decades.
The American Lands Council is a nationwide network of elected officials, public land users, and other citizens genuinely working to achieve greater accessibility, healthier conditions, and sustainable economic solutions for our public lands. We have worked hard to ensure that our proposed Transfer of Public Lands Act (a federal bill) addresses all the concerns we’ve heard and provides a clear path forward for success. If passed, here is how the Transfer of Public Lands Act would work:
1. STATES CAN GO AT THEIR OWN PACE: Through optional, incremental land transfers, States can acquire specific pieces of federally controlled public land whenever they are ready to manage new areas responsibly.
2. PROMISES TO KEEP IT PUBLIC MUST BE UPHELD: States must administer each piece of public land as described in the Legislature’s application for conveyance. If the application says it will be public land, the State must keep it public.
3. MINERAL, GRAZING & WATER RIGHTS ARE PROTECTED: States must honor all existing valid rights and uses, as well as contracts that were in place prior to the transfer. Safeguards against fee increases are built in to provide certainty.
4. LOCAL VOICES ARE STRENGTHENED: States must coordinate with affected counties to ensure that management plans for the newly acquired public lands are consistent with local plans and priorities.
5. RESOURCE REVENUES PAY FOR MANAGEMENT: Income derived from resource royalties will pay for ongoing maintenance, management, and wildfire control — making state ownership of the public lands economically sustainable.
6. STATE & LOCAL BUDGETS GET A BOOST: After land management costs are covered, excess revenues from natural resource production may be divided between state and local governments to support schools, roads, public safety, and other essential services.
I invite all Montanans to visit www.AmericanLandsCouncil.org for more information. By working, speaking, and acting together, we really can achieve what we all want — abundant recreation, safe, vibrant communities, and healthy air, water and wildlife.
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