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Sen. Jennifer Fielder

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, seen here during a 2015 Senate committee hearing, is leading the charge on the debate over whether federal forest and grazing lands in Montana should be transferred to state management.

HELENA – State Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, is the new CEO of the Utah-based American Lands Council, the chief organization pushing for transfer of federal lands to state control around the West.

Fielder, Montana’s leading figure in the transfer movement, replaces Utah Rep. Ken Ivory as head of the nonprofit. Ivory will become director of the Free The Lands project with public policy organization Federalism In Action, according to a news release.

“Sen. Fielder is genuinely committed to improving public land management and revitalizing depressed communities. She has a tremendous knowledge of the issues and is a great choice to carry on the important mission of the American Lands Council,” Ivory said in a statement.

Fielder, who has filed for re-election in Senate District 7, says that both her role as senator and CEO are part-time, allowing her to work from Thompson Falls. The CEO position is voluntary and unpaid, she said.

“It won’t be a whole lot different than what I’ve been doing, educating people and trying to keep moving in a positive direction,” she said.

Fielder’s role as CEO should help bring people in Montana and other states to the effort of increasing state and local control over federal lands via transfer, she said.

“I believe it is the right thing for Montana and that’s the whole reason I support local decision-making,” Fielder said. “But I realize that to help Montana you have to get other states to see the plight.”

Fielder sponsored transfer-related legislation during the last session, but says she currently does not have legislation on the table and does not believe her CEO job will conflict with her role as senator if re-elected.

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“I’m going to do the best I can for the people of Montana on everything I can,” she said. “It’s part of a citizen Legislature, and there are certainly others involved in organizations they’re passionate about. I don’t think this is any different. I’m passionate about local control as the best thing for my district and the state.”

Montana is not on board with a state takeover of federal lands, said Montana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Dave Chadwick. The federation was a major opponent of Fielder and transfer legislation during the last session.

“The American Lands Council’s agenda was soundly and overwhelmingly defeated in Montana,” he said.

Chadwick pointed to the recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon as an example of extremes in the transfer movement, although Fielder has maintained that the legislative efforts are totally disassociated with the militia movement.

"Good luck to Sen. Fielder with her working for any organization she wants to, but I certainly don’t think it reflects any growing Montana support for the cost of transferring federal lands,” Chadwick said.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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