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Lake Como

The public spoke and the county commissioners listened.

Recently, south Bitterroot Valley legislative Rep. Theresa Manzella scheduled a meeting with the commissioners to ask them to meet with Karen Budd-Falen.

Westerners are certainly familiar with Budd-Falen, or if they’re not, they should be. She is a Wyoming attorney who never met a national forest or national grassland she could love. She’s made a legal and political career of fighting conservation groups and by representing Cliven Bundy, another anti-public lands zealot whose name is well known to those who love our public lands.

Budd-Falen rejects the very concept of public lands and works around the West supporting the “transfer” of public lands to state and local control, which is just a euphemism for the ultimate goal of selling off our public lands to private buyers.

Manzella’s pitch to the commission was confusing and not particularly well thought out, and it seems she was relying on her status as a Republican legislator to make her case for her. It appeared that she wanted the commission to meet with Budd-Falen publicly for four hours on Nov. 17 to write a growth policy or write amendments to the five-year-old natural resource policy. It was not really clear what she wanted and the commissioners, understandably, were a bit baffled. But to their credit, they were also skeptical. They asked probing and thoughtful questions that Manzella seemed unable to answer coherently.

In fact, Manzella, and other fellow travelers in the “just say no to public lands” movement fail to answer a lot of questions. She simply cannot make a case that the costs or owning and managing public lands in the West can be borne by state or local taxpayers. She cannot explain how local or state ownership of federal public lands is even constitutional — probably because it isn’t. She doesn’t explain whether the odious public lands transfer idea extends to all public lands in the U.S. Or is it just the Bitterroot National Forest she wants taken out of public hands?

More importantly, she cannot answer this simple question: Who supports the transfer of our precious public lands into some other ownership, be it local, state or private? The answer to that one is easy: No one, except ideologues who oppose all things public, including schools. The American people certainly do not support turning over their public lands to anyone.

In the end, the commissioners listened to the 20 or so people, all members of Bitterrooters for Planning, who attended and urged their elected representatives to reject a meeting with Budd-Falen.

Manzella was not prepared for the questions the commission had for her, and had no allies in her support. Ultimately, she agreed to extend personal invitations to the unnamed local individuals who she said agreed to fund Budd-Falen’s trip here, and to hold the meeting at an unidentified private residence. She extended invitations to the commission, but she had no takers.

The commissioners did the right thing and they deserve public recognition for it.

I hope the voters recognize that in Theresa Manzella, Ravalli County has an elected representative to the Montana Legislature who supports transferring national forests to, ultimately, private ownership. If you support the notion of keeping public lands in public hands, then please don’t support Theresa Manzella.

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Carlotta Grandstaff of Corvallis is the communications director for Bitterrooters for Planning.

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