Steve Bullock, a Democrat, is the governor of Montana.
It’s past time that folks in the West extended an invitation to the president to get outdoors. A little time in the backcountry has a way of helping us remember who we are and where we come from. It’s hard to spend time on our state’s public lands without quickly learning some humility, and it’s equally hard to return to your day job without being inspired by all we have in common.
Where I come from, 18 holes might be relaxing, but it’s not the same as sleeping under the stars, watching a herd of elk crest a hill at 5:30 in the morning or feeling the tug of a trout from a blue-ribbon river on your line. If President Trump had grown up the way so many of us have, he might feel differently about pulling the rug out from under so many people whose livelihoods depend on our access to public lands.
Trump’s decision to substantially shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah reveals how at the most basic level he and his administration misunderstand what it means to preserve and protect our history — our heritage — for future generations. Sixteen presidents have designated 157 national monuments , dating to 1906, when Theodore Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act to protect Devils Tower in Wyoming. In contrast, Trump’s plans add up to the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history.
An attack on public lands anywhere is an attack on public lands everywhere, and it flies in the face of who we are as a nation. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from — Manhattan, Mont., Manhattan, N.Y., or Manhattan, Kan. — public lands belong to all of us. They are one of this country’s great equalizers.
Frankly, it makes me wonder whether the president is truly committed to investing in what makes America great, because a fundamental part of what makes America great is our land.
Earlier this year, the halls of Montana’s state capitol shook with thousands of voices chanting to keep our lands in public hands. As a Montanan and as the governor entrusted with the stewardship of our state, I stood with hunters, ranchers, anglers, veterans, grandparents and children of all ages and declared that Montana’s public lands would not be sold to the highest bidder.
It didn’t matter where we lived, what we did for a living or whom we voted for. What mattered is we stood together, united by our shared values and love of our lands, rivers, streams and, most important, our way of life. We affirmed our shared responsibility to manage these lands and our commitment to preserving and protecting them for our children and grandchildren.
This isn’t an issue that divides us. You don’t have to have a Swiss bank account to spend a day with a fly rod on the river. You don’t have to have friends in high places to explore mountains and trails. You don’t have to own a big piece of property to experience some of the best hunting and fishing in the world. And you don’t have to pay a fortune to find awe and a humility in the ancient structures revered by our tribal nations, such as the cliff dwellings of Bears Ears.
This is an issue that unites us. When we experience our public lands and embrace our shared responsibility to care for them, we’re participating in one of the great expressions of our democracy: We go as equals and return touched by what binds us together.
Those who came before us had the foresight to maintain our history and our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation legacy for the future. We have always found a way to safeguard that which we cannot replace. Public lands are our history, our heritage and our birthright, and we will not see them diminished. Not on our watch.
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