A “Virtual” Public Lands Rally

A scene from the 2019 public lands rally at the Montana state capitol building.

Yet another victim to the Pandemic was the big public lands rally that is regularly held under the rotunda in the state capitol during legislative years. The presence of citizens from around Montana gathering for a central idea, the protection of public lands in Montana, made a difference in the Legislature. 

It’s hard to throw our heritage of public lands and public fish and wildlife under the proverbial bus when thousands of citizens are in the building, rallying in support of those values.

 There was, nevertheless, a public lands rally last week on April 6, or as some call it, 406 Day, even if it was a “virtual” event, with some 600 people checking in rather than busloads of people flooding the rotunda. The event was promoted by a number of organizations, such as Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Conservation Voters.

 Rachel Schmidt, former Director of the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation, was the moderator of the event, and cited a handout package for the Legislature noting that 5.1 percent of Montana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from the outdoor economy, second-highest in the nation, as well as about 10 percent of Montana’s job are related to the outdoor economy. In addition, some 81 percent of Montana residents enjoy outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation is also considered the number one reason that businesses locate in Montana.

 Francine Spang-Willis, a board member of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Association, a Native American, and also a descendant of early Montana pioneers. She presented an indigenous peoples’ perspective, and the common bonds among Montanans who are connected through the outdoors.

Andrew Posewitz, a hunting ethics advocate, as well as the son of the late Jim Posewitz, talked about the importance of wild places. “Wild places are our souls, and without them, we are dead.” Looking back to the early 20th Century, after commercial hunting and other excesses, wildlife was almost non-existent. Citizens of Montana agreed that it was necessary to restore wildlife, and through the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, wildlife is flourishing. He asserts that the American Model is in more peril, because of the greed, in the form of public policy makers who represent people who seek to profit from the public trust. “They’re no different than the commercial hunters of the late 1800s, only now they’re smart enough to use terms such as ‘ranching for wildlife’ or promote ‘landowner-sponsored tags’…They’re the same breed as those who brought Montana wildlife to oblivion.”

 Posewitz referred to legislation that has been introduced in the current session, without the moderating influence of governors who truly believed in public lands and wildlife. He says, “That job is now ours and ours alone…to influence policy makers and, if necessary, to change the policy makers.” He closed by telling of his father, who said about citizen involvement, “I’ve testified in the halls of Congress, as well as to the regulars at Trixi’s Saloon. The latter is far more important.”

 Conrad Anker, a world-renowned mountaineer, talked about Montana’s headwaters, with waters east of the continental divide that flow into the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and waters from west of the divide that end up in the Columbia system and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean. “We’re the crown of the continent. Our waters feed the nation and we have to take care of that.” He concludes, “Reach out to your circle of influence and share the story of our public lands. What brings us together as Montanans is our public lands. We can go to a trailhead, start walking, and we can experience the world in its natural state.”

Here’s a link to virtual rally program: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/2021-virtual-rally-for.

 Appropriately, on the heels of the virtual Montana Public Lands Rally, next week, on April 22, is Earth Day, an annual tradition going back to 1970. Credit goes to Sen. Gaylord Nelson, then a junior senator from Wisconsin, who was concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States.

 From that first Earth Day, this is now a global event, the largest secular observance in the world, with over a billion people observing a day of action to create policy changes for a cleaner environment.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

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