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Public lands in public hands

by Rep Ryan Zinke
| March 20, 2024 2:00 AM

As I kid I spent more time outdoors than in. I swear there isn’t an inch of the Whitefish and Flathead Rivers I didn’t row, a trail in Jewel Basin I didn’t hike, and a campground in Glacier I didn’t overnight. But today, it’s becoming more difficult to find a spot to camp, hike, fish or hunt – and that’s a problem.

There is no doubt that Montana is a different place than the Montana I grew up. We have a quarter million more residents, sprawling housing developments, the economy is totally transformed, and millions of visitors flock to the Treasure State every year to enjoy our wide-open spaces. But one thing that hasn’t changed, whether you’re a fifth- or first-generation Montanan, is that we all cherish our public lands, making it mission critical to hold on to what we have. 

 That’s why I introduced the Public Lands in Public Hands Act.

The bipartisan legislation bans the sale or transfer of public lands managed by the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest service except under very specific conditions and where required under previous laws. If a tract of land is identified as exempt from the ban, the bill also requires the feds seek Congressional approval before they may sell or transfer tracts over 300 acres and for tracts over 5 acres if accessible via a public waterway. This provision alone would protect public access to nearly 30 million acres. 

Maintaining public ownership of the land is only one part of the equation. The feds must also properly manage the land and ensure public access – something the Biden Administration is failing at. Biden is following the plan laid out by environmental groups to systematically shut down public access to public lands in Montana. They even tried to sell our national parks to foreign-controlled asset companies.

 Look no farther than their crusade of rationing access to Glacier National Park where locals are treated as second class citizens and D.C. consultants are making millions off the scheme. The Biden Administration is also quietly shutting down boat ramps, campgrounds and trail heads, and rewriting rules to ban rock climbing in wilderness areas. Meanwhile, they are introducing grizzly bears to popular recreation areas, no doubt to cause conflicts and ultimately curb the number folks hiking, camping and hunting in the woods. 

Mismanagement by the environmentalists controlling the Biden policies is also shutting down access and damaging habitat quality. Case in point, look at our forests. Driving through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Glacier National Park, or the Lolo you’ll see stands of dead and dying timber and forest floors that are a literal tinderbox. In addition to being too densely covered to supply any quality habitat or hiking opportunities, they are also fuel loads waiting to go up in flames.

Every year we watch our forests burn to the ground when commonsense forest management techniques such as targeted thinning, prescribed burns, and sustainable yield logging is proven to increase fire resiliency. But rather than implement a forest management plan to pull out dead and dying timber and optimize sustainable board feet limits the Biden Administration bowed to environmental zealots and all but stopped managing our forests. Mills are closing across western Montana because of this.

This sort of regulatory mismanagement and rationed access are tools the far left and environmentalists use to shut down access to your public lands. 

We were given a legacy and heritage tied in with the outdoors. Public land ownership is a gift fought for and passed down to us since our nation’s founding through visionaries like the Buffalo Soldiers who protected areas that would become our most-treasured places like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks to Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt who established our first national park and the U.S. Forest Service, respectively. 

But with that legacy also comes the responsibility to properly manage our public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. My Public Lands in Public Hands Act takes the first step of ensuring our lands remain public, but it’s going to also take a president willing to manage for the benefit and enjoyment of the people to ensure that We the People have access to that land.


Congressman Ryan Zinke

Whitefish