On Jan. 30th, protesters gathered outside the Capitol Building in Helena, Montana, to voice their dissent over the selling of public land. A rally was also hosted in Billings by Rocky Mountain College philosophy and environmental studies professor David Strong at the Granite Tower in objection to the proposed legislation.
The dispute stems from a congressional bill that proposes the sale of over 3 million acres of public land from states including Montana. The bill, known as the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017, was initially introduced on Jan. 23rd by Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman representing Utah. According to Congress.gov, the purpose of the bill is to “direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada,
New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.”
Tom Kalakay, a geology professor at RMC, condemns the bill. Kalakay stated, “The land transfer proponents say that the state can better manage the land to increase environmental protection and for reasons of safety. We all know what this is about. It’s about doing away with federal regulations that protect our public land and opening it up to exploitation and development.”
There was a strong turn- out in Helena for the rally. Kalakay stated, “I was proud to see so many Montanans from all walks of life. I even saw a couple Rocky students. The presenters were inspirational, especially Governor Bullock. Jon Tester phoned in as well. This fight is going to get rough in the coming weeks.”
Renowned mountaineering legend Conrad Anker said, “The outdoors defines us as Montanans.” Gov. Steve Bullock got more specific when at the rally he stated public lands, “are our birthright. The outdoors should be promoted not threatened.” Bullock said millions of people come to Montana to experience the outdoors, “not for Wal-Mart.” Bullock also clarified that the outdoor industry provides 64,000 jobs in Montana and represents $6 billion in consumer spending. To do away with more public land would have substantial financial ramifications for the state as a whole. Bullock’s view is that public land transfer has no place in “this building (the Capitol) and no place in Montana.”
On Feb. 2nd, the house bill supported by Chaffetz was withdrawn, yet the situation is indicative of a larger issue affecting the country: the fact that the public will have to continually fight to preserve public land.