Montana rancher defends public lands

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The fringe element that wants to steal our shared national heritage — the lands and waters and fish and wildlife owned by us, the American people — is coming to Montana.

Last Saturday, public lands abuser Cliven Bundy spoke at an anti-public lands gathering in Paradise. A group with ties to the region, The Coalition of Western Property Owners, promoted the event, which they called “Freedom and Property.” Neither is applicable to Mr. Bundy: He wants to divest us of the freedom represented by our public lands, and he’s already been stealing our property by illegally grazing his cattle.

Following the recent dismissal of federal charges due to a major bungle by the government, Bundy and his followers walked free. Bundy has made no secret of his plans to continue undermining our American system of public lands and ultimately stealing them from you and me. His appearance in Paradise was an attempt to advance his agenda.

Bundy shared the billing with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, who is also the CEO of the pro-public lands transfer organization called the American Lands Council. Fielder represents Sanders County, where Paradise is located. That an elected Montana lawmaker and head of a group that advocates for the “orderly” transfer of public lands is willing to align herself with a well-known scofflaw like Bundy should concern all of us who care about our public lands — not to mention the numerous benefits, including hunting, fishing and hiking, mining, logging and grazing that these lands provide.

I speak from experience. I’m not only a public lands hunter and angler who likes nothing better than chasing pronghorn or turkeys or casting a line for trout on our lands and waters; I also have relied on these places for my livelihood.

I’ve been involved in agriculture and ranching my whole life. My family and neighbors have grazed and/or currently graze cattle on public lands — and pay grazing leases at the bargain of $1.83 AUM on federally managed lands (compared to $10-12 on state lands and north of $20 on private lands). Forgoing these fees — effectively stealing from taxpaying citizens, as Mr. Bundy has done for years — would never cross our minds. Folks like Cliven Bundy give a bad name not just to law-abiding ranchers but to ethical public lands users everywhere.

Responsible public land owners obey game laws and adhere to hunting and fishing seasons. We also pay our way for the privilege of activities such as grazing our cows on rangelands owned by the general citizenry. For public lands management to succeed, it’s critical that all of us demonstrate the same adherence to the laws — and be held accountable if we break those laws.

I was raised a proud American citizen. I am especially proud of our unique public lands legacy, a shared inheritance that is the envy of the world. Those who would divest and take this heritage from us — the Cliven Bundys and Jennifer Fielders and their ilk — deserve our scorn and mistrust.

These misguided folks disrespect our government, our public lands and waters, and the citizens who own them. And we the American people must not tolerate the willingness by Mr. Bundy and his comrades to flout the rule of law and abuse our publicly owned lands.

Nick Siebrasse lives in Havre. His family has been in Montana for over 100 years working in agriculture and ranching. He is also the Region 6 Board Member of the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

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