Daines: We Should Unlock Montana’s Public Lands From Being Held Hostage
Public lands are a critical part of the Western way of life. What you may not know is that there are millions of public lands that many have lost access to because of the inaction of Congress. In Montana there are still over 1 million acres that have been locked up.
As a fifth-generation Montanan, and an avid outdoorsman myself, I cherish our access to public lands and want to make sure we have access to them. After hearing from local communities and the Montana State Legislature, the need to address this issue was clear. That’s why I’ve introduced the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act, legislation that will increase access for a majority of public land users to almost 450,000 acres of Montana’s great landscape.
Under President Carter, 973,000 acres of forest service lands in Montana were designated as Wilderness Study Areas to determine if they were suitable for wilderness or not. The study was designed to take five years, yet over forty years later; D.C. still imposes restrictions on hundreds of thousands of acres that did not meet the criteria for Wilderness.
What does that mean for us who live in the West? It’s simple. It means less access. Opportunities for families to mountain bike, snowmobile, or ATV on these lands continue to disappear or outright prohibited – all because D.C. paralysis has prevented the public from determining how these areas should be used. With fewer people able to enjoy these areas, that means fewer opportunities for people of all ages to hunt or fly fish across this great state.
While keeping these lands in limbo-status restricts our way of life, it also stunts the economic growth that many states in the West count on. For example, Montana’s outdoor economy is over seven billion dollars. Securing non-wilderness, public lands for activities such as biking or snowmobiling will only continue to drive economic growth in communities across Montana and the West. We should be providing access to more people, not fewer.
While my bill focused on Montana, I believe we must look at all the areas in the West. My bill proposes that five study areas, all of which were already determined not suitable for wilderness by the Forest Service after extensive public feedback, be addressed. This would place almost 450,000 acres of Montana land back where it belongs — in the hands of all Montanans.
Public lands that are only accessible to a few are not public at all, and I am committed to keeping public lands in public hands.
Steve Daines is a Republican U.S. Senator from Montana