Montana’s Democratic candidate for governor today unveiled a plan he says will protect public lands and access to them.
Current Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney’s “Protect the Last Best Place” plan doesn’t include new proposals but instead reiterates support for existing state programs, laws and policies, like those related to stream access.
During a press conference July 14, Cooney said he would defend Montana’s public lands against politicians and powerful interest groups seeking privatization.
“Whether you can hike or hunt, bike or camp, doesn’t depend on the size of your check book. These lands belong to all of us," he said.
Cooney says he advocates strengthening systems that promote access to public lands and streams otherwise inaccessible due to nearby private property.
His plan supports expansion of Habitat Montana, a decades-old state program used to secure permanent conservation easements and wildlife management areas. It also calls for boosting Montana’s recreational economy, which generates $7.1 billion in annual consumer spending, with further investment in the state Office of Outdoor Recreation.
“It can be a moneymaker," Cooney said.
Cooney didn't discuss management priorities for natural resources like timber or mineral deposits
He said he would veto any state legislation that harms public lands access or privitizes wildlife resources. He contrasted his public lands record with that of his Republican opponent: current U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte.
Gianforte has previously advocated for more local management of federal lands, which Cooney says could lead to transfer of the lands themselves, then privatization. Cooney also criticized Gianforte’s support of federal bills from 2018 that would’ve removed wilderness study area protections from more than 700,000 acres of public land in Montana.
“A move described by conservation advocates as potentially the biggest single rollback of protected public lands in Montana’s history," Cooney said.
In a prepared statement, a Gianforte spokesperson accuses Cooney of lying about the congressman’s record. The statement says Gianforte would “keep public lands in public hands and increase public access to our public lands” if elected governor.