Public Lands Rally Feb 16, 2015


By all accounts the rally went well in Helena yesterday. For those of us who couldn't make it the Billings Gazette had the best write-up I've seen so far:

By all accounts the rally went well in Helena yesterday. For those of us who couldn't make it the Billings Gazette had the best write-up I've seen so far:


There has been a very good, on going, thread about the rally and land transfer issues on Randy Newberg's Hunt Talk. He was one of the speakers in Helena.


I also wrote an essay about the transfer issues:


Transferring Federal Land to Montana



Dear Headwaters Sportsman Association Members and friends,


This essay is written from a Montana resident hunter’s point of view. In particular, Montana hunters who hunt on public accessible land without hired guides. These outdoor enthusiasts are also known as do-it-yourself (DIY) public land hunters.


I have followed the debate about transferring federal land to Montana. I think there are two primary issues. The first is: How should our public (both federal and state) lands be managed? And the second is: Which taxpayers will pay to cover the cost of ownership and management of the public’s land?


The first issue about how the land should be managed is the most important. Do-it-yourself hunters want public land to be managed for increased hunting opportunities. The highest policy priority would be to improve and maintain wildlife habitat and provide reasonable access to recreate on all public land. All other uses of the land would only be allowed if they did not interfere significantly with hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. The value of the land is how much recreation it can provide. Wildlife associated recreational activity generates a tremendous amount of economic activity in Montana, including taxes and fees returned to government entities.


I understand that the probability of this wildlife-centric “dream” becoming completely true is fairly remote, but many Montana sportsmen and women work diligently on a daily basis to direct public policy toward this goal.


There will always be tension between those outdoor sportsmen who want motorized access versus those who want wilderness. For DIY hunters, you can’t hunt if you can’t get to the public land, but too much easy access reduces hunting opportunities. So compromises must be reached. There is, however, no debate among resident public land hunters that current public access roads and trail must be kept open at all costs.  We are also more than willing to pay to purchase additional access on private land that is currently not available. For example, we strongly support the Block Management program run by the FW&P.


As opposed to this wildlife-recreationists’ point of view is the desire to maximize profit to the individual (or corporation) who leases the public land and its related natural resources. The renters’ goal is to pay the lowest fees possible for the public’s resources and pay as little as possible for the costs of production. One of those costs would be wildlife reductions that harm hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers.


If the public land is placed into private ownership, this goal of maximized profit would be reached and sportsmen would have to get permission to trespass in order to hunt or fish. Through the use of trespass laws, private land owners can take substantial control of the public’s wildlife resources. The FW&P balances this privatization by controlling the licenses and season structures associated with the wildlife held in trust by the state.


Currently, there are many categories of federal and state land that have many different management goals, strategies, regulations and fee structures. In Montana, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) manages “school” sections to provide money for public schools through leasing to private individuals. Improving wildlife production is not a major goal on land managed by DNRC. Montana was the last state in the Union to allow the public to trespass on DNRC land and there was a huge backlash from the agriculture community when this policy was enacted. Citizens are forbidden to drive on established two track roads on these sections.


On the other hand, lands managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FW&P) have as their highest goal to improve wildlife survival and provide recreational opportunities. Providing direct income to FW&P is a secondary goal.


There is an understandable frustration with policy makers at both the state and federal levels. Many argue that state and federal decision makers do not make “good” decisions and that there is vast room for improvement. Proponents of transfer think that Montana would managed public land more to their liking than current federal employees.


I also think proponents are using the DNRC model, which is biased toward profit making and says nothing about improved wildlife habitat and sportsmen access. If all the transferred land would be placed under the control of the FW&P, I don’t think the current proponents would be so energetic and enthusiastic about a transfer.


The hunting and fishing opportunities are much better on FW&P land than DNRC land. Thus, public land sportsmen would want to see all transferred federal land handed over to FW&P not DNRC. That is probably not what proponents of the transfer want to see, since they want leasers to have the most control of the land and its profits.


Because there are so many unanswered questions about federal land transfer, most (but not all) resident hunter and anglers are opposed to this action at this time.


The problem about who should pay for public land is also complex. I do know that there is substantial economic activity in hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. So the argument that public lands should be more easily used for agriculture, mining and energy development because of their economic power ignores the fact that lands that produce wildlife and associated recreation activity are also economic powerhouses.


Those that make money off the public’s resources, including wildlife recreation, should pay enough taxes and fees to manage the public’s real estate. It should also be pointed out that wildlife associated activity generates economic activity throughout nearby communities. Taxes paid by businesses that provide goods and services to wildlife enthusiasts could also be directed to support public land.  If there is not enough money generated from the users, then all tax payers may be asked to help cover the costs of managing public land. This transfer of money from one taxpayer to another should be an open process and well debated.


The public land decision makers owe it to the rest of us to have an open, transparent and effective policy making process. If all stakeholders thought that they were getting fair and rewarding access to “their” public resources, we would not be debating who should manage the public land.


Shannon Taylor

Bozeman, MT

February 14, 2015