Given how much Montanans value public lands, it’s reasonable to expect the Montana legislature would elect someone as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee who shares those values. But that didn’t happen with the recent appointment of Rep. Kerry White.
In 2014, more than 200 heavily armed, anti-government militants answered Cliven Bundy’s call to help him fight against federal and local law enforcement officials, who were rounding up Bundy’s cattle as payment for the $1 million in grazing fees he owed – and still owes – American taxpayers. White also answered the call.
“I will be going down to Nevada, leaving tomorrow to stand with Mr. Bundy,” White announced on his Facebook page at a time when Bundy’s militants were threatening the lives of local and federal law enforcement officials and public land managers.
As a supporter of the Bundy clan and as a legislator who has introduced bills aimed at transferring and selling off American public lands, White has repeatedly shown that he’s more aligned with the radical fringe than he is with Montanans. White recently demonstrated this again when he spoke at a conference in Whitefish that featured Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon, who in 2016 led the 44-day armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
During the Malheur occupation, White again came to the defense of the Bundy clan, calling on a local sheriff “to stand up and protect those people at the Refuge…against federal soldiers.” To White’s way of thinking, an armed gang that trashes public buildings, vandalizes ancient American Indian sites, and tears down fences needed and deserved the local sheriff’s protection from federal law enforcement.
The Whitefish conference at which White spoke recently also featured radicals who advocate for terminating Indian treaty rights and eliminating tribal sovereignty, as well as those who peddle the “deep state,” Agenda 21 and other conspiracy theories meant to sow paranoia and divisiveness in our communities. White is no stranger to the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory. In 2013 he spoke at an event that organizers billed on Facebook as “Agenda 21 Opp with Kerry White.”
In addition to supporting the Bundy clan, White has served as a representative of the American Lands Council, the Utah-based group leading the charge for disposing of public lands – something Montanans across the state resoundingly reject.
According to the 2018 University of Montana Public Lands Survey, 90 percent of Montanans see the protection of public lands as being an important part of “maintaining what is best about Montana.” Eighty-seven percent of Montanans say that public lands have a positive impact on our overall quality of life. One of the largest sectors of Montana’s economy, outdoor recreation accounts for $7 billion in consumer spending, 70,000 jobs, and $286 million in state and local tax revenue. If White had his way, the foundation for this economy – public lands – would be broken.
Additionally, White has made the preposterous claim that too many trees in the forest are to blame for drought, and that if we would greatly increase the harvest of trees we wouldn’t have to worry about drought or wild fires.
White’s irrational, illogical and extremist views are dangerous for Montana’s public lands and should automatically disqualify him from holding any position, especially one of leadership, in any committee that makes public land policy.
As we head into the 2019 legislative session, we need to make sure that our elected officials are serving public lands, not working against them, as White has done for several years now. If we want to see the science-based, bipartisan legislation that Montanans deserve, we’ll need to keep a very close eye on how White leads this committee.
— L.M. Caine, Bozeman, owns and operates the Firehole Ranch in West Yellowstone. Tom Ross, Gallatin Gateway, is a retired civil engineer who worked for 28 years in the forest products industry. Dick Shockley, Gallatin Gateway, is a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, third-generation Montanan, and a lifelong hunter and angler.