Hundreds of Montanans are expected to gather under the State Capitol rotunda in Helena on Friday to rally in support of public lands.
“Public lands, really for a lot of people, I think, define what it means to be a Montanan," says Kayje Booker of the Montana Wilderness Association. "And our outdoor way of life is the reason a lot of us live here in Montana.”
Booker says Friday’s noon Rally for Public Lands is meant to send a loud and clear message to state and federal lawmakers.
“That we expect lawmakers to listen to us because these lands belong to us," Booker said. "And we won’t stand for them being seized and exploited by private interests for private gains. These are our lands.”
Gov. Steve Bullock will keynote the public lands rally which is being hosted by over a dozen organizations including Forward Montana, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Montana Wilderness Association.
“We’re of course concerned that the Land and Water Conservation Fund still has not been reauthorized," Booker said. "And we are keeping an eye on potential wilderness study bills Sen. Daines or Rep. Gianforte may introduce again. But this is largely a rally in the state capital, so it is a message to our federal lawmakers but we're trying to catch the attention of our state legislators as well."
Montana Wilderness Association says it supports Senate Bill 24, introduced by Helena Republican Terry Gauthier. It would increase Montana’s optional vehicle registration state parks fee from $6 to $9. That’s expected to yield an additional $2 million a year which would be divided between state parks, fishing access sites and a new trails fund.
MWA says it will also closely monitor any natural resources or state lands bill-drafts submitted by Thompson Falls Republican Sen. Jennifer Fielder. They worry about her advocacy for greater state control of federal public lands by state governments.
The Wilderness Association will oppose potential legislative resolutions calling on Montana’s congressional delegation to strip protections from wilderness study areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management.