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Sen. Jennifer Fielder, of Trout Creek, is failing to serve Montanans by embracing the radical, anti-government cause of the Bundy militia, which has been occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon. She should abandon this destructive course of action.

Radical extremists have called for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to be seized from its rightful owners, we the American people, and handed over to “local control.” This misguided mission has cost taxpayers millions, put more than a dozen people behind bars and left one unfortunate soul dead. The pointless occupation continues.

Yet Fielder is peddling a version of the Bundy debacle that depicts Bundy and his ilk not as the vandals and criminals they are but instead as victims and heroes, regular folk who were pushed over the edge. This distasteful rhetoric suits the interests of Fielder, who has made no secret of her goal to legislate “transfers” of public lands to state and private interests; it also reflects the mission of the American Lands Council, Fielder’s new employer (she recently was hired as ALC’s CEO). This out-of-state conflation of lawyers and ideologues just plain hates national forests, national parks and national wildlife refuges and claims them unconstitutional.

We can speculate about their motives, but one fact remains crystal clear: What the Bundys are trying to do by intimidation and force, Fielder and ALC are trying to do via lawsuits and politics.

For Montanans and other Americans who love the outdoors, their tactics pose a special threat. They want to destroy our public lands heritage, including the places where millions of Americans hunt and fish.

Fielder has introduced a steady stream of bills to undermine public lands in Montana. They failed miserably, with a bipartisan group of legislators rejecting her radical agenda. Mainstream organizations, including the Montana Wood Products Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, joined the chorus against it. To underscore how far out of touch Fielder is, hundreds of Montana voters from all walks of life literally shook the rafters of the state capitol rotunda at a rally last year.

National forests and wildlife refuges in Montana offer some of the best hunting and fishing in North America – no admittance fee required. Roughly half the elk harvested in Montana in recent years have been taken in national forests, which also support hiking, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and a host of other uses. This recreational access is important to our families’ outdoor experiences and our state’s economic health.

Public lands aren’t just about recreation, however. MWPA has urged state legislators to abandon the anti-public lands bandwagon. Many legitimate frustrations exist regarding how national forests are managed. But waving the radical banner of seizures and takeovers only distracts from the very real, and often difficult, work that needs to be done to improve land management.

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Montanans have shown that honest conversations, patient resolve and basic decency can advance meaningful collaborative efforts. From the Kootenai and Seeley Lake to the Gallatin, from the Rocky Mountain Front to the Big Hole, neighbors are working together to achieve shared, positive results. And they provide an honest way to resolve conflict without resorting to the bullying tactics endorsed by Fielder.

Now that Fielder has become CEO of the American Lands Council, it is clear her loyalties reside with out-of-state special interests, not the people of her rural Montana community. Her constituents should hold her accountable for her blatant disregard for their values.

Montanans recognize a snake oil salesman when we see one. Proposals to transfer ownership of public lands being pitched by Fielder and ALC are nothing more than a sham. 

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Emmon Snyder is a board member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ Montana chapter. John Sullivan is co-chair of BHA’s Montana chapter.

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