Wanna know what our Ravalli County Commissioners got up their sleeves now? If you can believe it, they’re plotting to take away our federal public lands—lands you and I hike, fish, hunt, ski, bike, snowmobile, and just plain relax on. This is not a mistruth or exaggeration. If the majority tea party commissioners get their way, say good-bye to Bitterroot National Forest lands and Lee Metcalf NWR, and say hello to “Schwab Lands Inc.—No Trespassing!”
The commissioners want our US government to turn over all federal public lands within Montana to state ownership and “local control.” They’re starting this “public land transfer” process on December 11, 2013 when they hold two meetings: One meeting (private-at BJ’s) for “supportive” elected officials and business owners; the other, a public meeting laying out their strategy, at the Elks. They’re flying up a public land transfer “expert”—a tea party extremist from Utah—to pave the way to locking us out of our own public lands! Thank you, Commissioners! We Bitterrooters thought you had your hands full overseeing county roads, taxes, health, and budget. It makes perfect sense that if you can’t manage our County Road Department, you should take on the duties of running 1.6+ million acres of federal land within Ravalli County.
I know this all sounds crazy, far-fetched, impossible. The actual transfer is likely improbable. But just because it’s improbable doesn’t mean our Commissioners won’t waste their time—and our taxpayer money—on county government time, public meetings, “transfer studies,” frivolous lawsuits, out-of–state lawyers, etc. We need to take this threat seriously, tell our Commissioners “Hell No!” and promptly vote them out.
This “taking” of our birthright public lands may have its roots in the “Sagebrush Rebellion” of the 1970s/80s, but the recent incarnation of this proposed grand theft has been stewarded by the American Lands Council, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, and run by Ken Ivory, an extremist Utah State Legislator whom our commissioners are flying up with “private funds.”
Mr. Ivory claims our US government “promised” to return all federal public lands to the states in the “Enabling Act” of 1889—the “Act” that gave Montana statehood. As a condition of joining the union, Montana FOREVER gave up rights and title to the federal lands within its boundaries; or until Congress relinquishes (“extinguishes”) control. Nowhere in the “Act” does it talk of a “promise” or anything like it. It’s an outright lie and commissioners like Suzy Foss are suckers in consuming charlatan Ivory’s magic tea elixir.
The Utah legislature, run by tea radicals, passed a Bill (HB 148) that demands the US government surrender all federal lands by 12/31/2014, or Utah will sue. But Utah’s own legislative legal council warned the bill was unconstitutional. Utah allocated $3 million to study and legally defend the land transfer. So, even though the bill’s unconstitutional, Utah is spending millions on this boondoggle. Ravalli County or Montana could likewise waste our hard earned money.
Our Commissioners, taking their lead from Ivory, will say:
1) Our state can do it better.
2) “Local control” is needed to better manage these lands.
3) It’ll bring in more money for the county and Montana.
4) It’ll mean more money for public education.
This may sound reasonable at first glance, but look at Utah, the state spearheading this monumental land theft:
1) The state barely manages to allocate $12 million to fund running its own state lands, and is doing a miserable job at it.
2) The federal government spends $200-300 million/year managing federal lands in Utah. Utah would have to cut every tree in the state, enormously raise taxes, or sell public lands off to fund land management.
3) Utah’s public education is simply not a funding priority.
4) The money behind this canard is from oil, gas, and coal extractors, land developers, and billionaires.
5) The ultimate goal is the sale of public lands to the highest bidders—locking us out.
Speaking of true motives, Utah’s US Rep. Chaffetz, another tea drinker, introduced a congressional bill in October 2013. The bill sells 3.3 million(!) acres of national public lands, including here in Montana.
Ivory uses Illinois as a role model in public land transfers to states. Look at their state map now: Near zilch public lands. Why? Because Illinois gave, or sold ‘em off! This is their template for Montana?!
Folks, this is about greed. About corporate interests co-opting anti-government tea followers into doing their bidding, under the guise of “local control.” Ivory is the snake oil salesman; our Commissioners, the gullible politicians who are willing to sell us all out. Don’t let ‘em do it. We wanna keep our public lands as they are—open and free for all Americans, no matter what your income, to explore and enjoy.
Van P. Keele