HELENA - Hundreds of people braved below-zero temperatures and snow showers on Thursday to “Rally for Public Lands” at the State Capitol.
This was the fifth legislative session that conservation organizations have held the Rally for Public Lands.
“Let's sort of make sure that our legislators are aware how important our public lands are economically and for our outdoor quality of life, and make sure that as they're doing their business during the session that they prioritize our access and our ability to continue to recreate and enjoy our families outside in our public lands,” said Becky Edwards, executive director of Mountain Mamas, one of the sponsoring groups.
One of the speakers was Cole Mannix, who comes from a ranching family and is now president and founder of Old Salt Co-Op, a locally-based meat processor and retailer that focuses on land stewardship.
“The mandate in our Constitution since ’72, of a clean and healthful environment and for Montanans to maintain and improve that – that's pretty simple, and it's I think it's the best North Star for a citizenry that there could be,” he said.
Mannix said he’s particularly passionate about forming stronger partnerships between agriculture and conservation in Montana.
“We have so much in common,” he said. “We all eat, we all breathe the air and drink the water. For our kids, for ourselves, protecting and enhancing the Montana landscape – that's pretty common ground.”
Several speakers at this year’s rally objected to proposed bills that would redirect marijuana tax revenue away from the state’s Habitat Montana program, which provides incentives for landowners to conserve wildlife habitat on private land.
House Bill 462 would shift that money primarily to law enforcement, Senate Bill 442 would direct it toward county road maintenance, and House Bill 669 would take marijuana revenue that currently goes toward Habitat Montana and several other specific programs and redirect it to the general fund.
This was the first in-person Rally for Public Lands since 2019. In 2021, it was held online because of COVID.
Edwards said it was important to show how committed Montanans are to the state’s public lands.
“It's so many people, it's so bitter cold today, and it was so heartening to walk up and see so many people making it a priority to make their voices heard on behalf of their public lands,” she said.