Montana governor candidate Bullock shares plan for public lands

This item originally appeared in: The Missoulian

Author

Keila Szpaller

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock talked Monday with outdoor enthusiasts in Missoula about his recently released plan to protect public lands in Montana.

“What we’re seeing more and more is challenges to the ability for the average Montanan to access our public lands and streams,” Bullock said before the gathering in McCormick Park.

Attorney General Bullock, a Democrat, is running for governor against former Congressman Rick Hill, a Republican businessman. Democrat Gov. Brian Schweitzer can’t run for the office again because he has termed out.

On Monday in a telephone call, Bullock shared the highlights of his plan before talking to a gathering of local hunters and anglers. The event was billed as a rally to protect Montana’s outdoor heritage, which has economic benefits across the state, Bullock said.

Outdoor recreation brings in more than $680 million a year to Montana and accounts for an estimated 10,000 jobs, he said: “It’s big business in Montana and has a significant economic impact.”

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But Montanans don’t need to have large checkbooks to enjoy public lands, either, he said. Here are the highlights of Bullock’s plan:

End road disputes quickly by allocating professional resources from the Montana Department of Transportation. “It’s the delay that over time ends up blocking sportsmen and sportswomen while lawyers are wrangling about this, which is unfortunate,” Bullock said.
Fight attempts to privatize and commercialize public wildlife and protect “fair-chase” hunting. The state constitution protects the opportunity to harvest wild fish and game, and Montanans have a long history of opposing “hunting for dollars,” he said.
Preserve public access and expand opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, such as those who enjoyed the opening Saturday of the general rifle hunting season. “There’s even been times where farmers and ranchers who have state leases have had their access blocked. So we want to clear that up,” Bullock said.
Emphasize public-private partnerships by improving the block management plan. He said he would engage the Private Lands/Public Wildlife Council to come up with proposals to offer incentives to landowners to enhance wildlife habitat quality and improve opportunities.
In an earlier response to Bullock’s plan, Republican Rick Hill’s campaign manager Brock Lowrance said protecting Montana’s outdoor sporting heritage has been a priority for Hill, who was also in Missoula last week talking about his own policies for the outdoors. Lowrance said Bullock’s plan has some holes.

“It’s incredible that Steve Bullock’s sportsmen policy ignores some of the most important issues facing landowners and sportsmen today, chief among them the growing problem we have with wolves and other predators,” Lowrance said.

Bullock “completely ignores the problem as Montana hunters worry about declining elk and deer populations, and landowners experience increasing livestock predation,” he said.

Lowrance touted Hill’s ideas instead: “That’s why his plan is centered around fostering greater collaborative relationships between private landowners and sportsmen, resisting efforts to diminish stream access and aggressively managing our wolf and predator population.”