Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Cooney vows to protect public lands

by Mike Cooney
| July 26, 2020 1:00 AM

I’ve spent my career fighting for our public lands, and I have a track record of delivering results for Montanans. Growing up in Montana shaped who I am and the values I carry with me. Like many Montanans, I know how lucky we are to spend time outdoors on our public lands — hunting, fishing, hiking and camping — making long-lasting memories with friends and family.

Generations of Montanans have fought to protect our public lands, rivers and streams. That fight continues to this day. We need to be clear-eyed about the threats we face. Our outdoor heritage and way of life is under attack. There are powerful special interests who want to see our public lands sold off to the highest bidder.

Make no mistake: an attack on public lands anywhere is an attack on public lands everywhere. And it flies in the face of everything we’ve spent our lives trying to defend. My opponent has played a major role in these attacks. After moving here from New Jersey, Greg Gianforte sued the state to block access to a popular fishing site near his million-dollar property on the Gallatin River — our river.

Gianforte supports transferring management of federal land, a move which would bust our budget and lead to privatization of these lands. In Congress, Gianforte wrote legislation to strip protections from nearly 700,000 acres of public lands — without public input — a move described by conservation advocates as potentially “the single biggest rollback of protected public lands in Montana history.”

Facing a tough election, Greg Gianforte would now like you to believe that he’s a champion for public lands. But as you read this, he is currently refusing to co-sponsor the Great American Outdoors Act in Congress which would give full and permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protecting our great outdoors.

The choice in this election is clear.

Having served on the Land Board for twelve years, I have a proven record of standing with Montanans and protecting our public lands. As a state legislator, I helped pass Montana’s stream access law, which is the envy of the country. And I voted to make funding for the state’s premier Habitat Montana program, which protects and enhances wildlife habitat across the state, permanent.

Protecting our public lands, clean air and clean water, and our way of life will be a top priority for my administration, which is why this week I announced my plan to Protect the Last Best Place. The plan includes fully funding and strengthening Habitat Montana, Montana’s premier access and conservation program; opening up landlocked public lands through the Public Access Lands Act; better compensating landowners who enroll land in the Block Management Program; and providing tax incentives for easements to open up landlocked lands.

It also includes increasing the number of Fishing Access Sites, with the goal of having an access point every twelve miles of navigable water; defending our court-tested stream access at all costs; and providing the Office of Outdoor Recreation the resources necessary to promote our world-class outdoor recreational experiences and support the outdoor economy. To view the full plan, visit www.cooneyformontana.com/publiclands.

Our public lands are our heritage. They are our birthright. You don’t need to be a millionaire to spend the day fly-fishing on our blue-ribbon trout streams. Whether you can hike or hunt or bike or camp doesn’t depend on the size of your checkbook. These lands belong to all of us, and it will take a governor who will stand up and make all our voices heard loud and clear: these lands belong in public lands.

Mike Cooney is Montana’s Lt. Governor and Democratic candidate for Governor