After the Election

Kathyrn QannaYahu's picture

Shock & awful.

The presidential election shocked many this past November 8, but there were also statewide races with important ramifications for the environment and our public lands. Here are some key takeaways:

On the public-lands front, this election brought some gains and losses.
• We retained Governor Bullock by a slim margin, who is committed to public-land access.
• We gained Supreme Court Justice Sandefur, who will fight for the law, not viewing Stream Access as a “monumental erosion” of private property rights, as his opponent stated. I prognosticate we will very much need our Supreme Court. 

Montana State Land Board, Public Land Transfer
Custer-Gallatin National Forest: public access to public land like this remains in limbo.

The truly horrendous loss is to our State Public Lands. There are five elected officials that automatically have seats on our State Land Board: the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Auditor. The State Pachyderms, whose party platform is to transfer your federal public lands to the states, to then be under state control, swept the other four land-board positions. This gives them a majority and the power to do what they will with your public lands and access to them.

State lands were given to the state by the federal government upon statehood; they are managed for the “benefit of the common schools and the other endowed institutions in Montana.” Montana has yet to sell off the bulk of them, as a number of other western states have done. We didn’t always have recreational access to our State lands; it had to be fought for by the same hunting and angling conservation advocates that brought you Stream Access. In 1980, the Montana Coalition for Access on State Public Lands was created. In 1988, they filed a lawsuit against the state for hunting and fishing access. In 1991, HB 778 was passed allowing hunting and fishing recreation on State Trust Lands. In 1993, other recreationists followed the same path, petitioning the State Land Board for multiple-use to include camping, bird watching, hiking, and berry and mushroom picking. With this election, not only is the state land and its recreation access at risk, but some state-land parcels border some of our federal public lands, providing access; if those are sold, access is lost.

Montana State Land Board, Public Land Transfer
With transfer advocates dominating the land board, this might become the norm.

While the public land/wildlife scenario is dark, it is not yet lost, and well worth fighting for.

We can:
• Participate in governing and hold our government accountable
• Join and participate with watchdog groups that protect our public lands like Public Land/Water Access Association (PLWA), Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) and Enhancing Montana’s Wildlife & Habitat (EMWH)
• Pop the information bubbles, becoming factually informed citizens, instead of promoting baseless reactionary opinions
• Demand a real journalistic media revolution.

As rights activist Eve Ensler stated, “An activist is someone who cannot help but fight for something. That person is not usually motivated by a need for power, or money, or fame, but in fact, driven slightly mad by some injustice, some cruelty, some unfairness—so much so that he or she is compelled by some internal moral engine to act to make it better.”

Be that activist—our public lands and wildlife depend on you.

Kathryn QannaYahu runs Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat. Find out more at

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