More than anything, Senator Steve Daines wants you to believe that he’s been fighting for our public lands ever since he took office.
But if you look beyond the platitudes and manufactured talking points, it’s easy to see that his record doesn’t measure up to his rhetoric — far from it.
In Daines’ five years in the Senate, he’s consistently refused to support collaborative and locally crafted legislation, and he’s worked against public lands bills behind the scenes, only supporting them when it became politically advantageous or when he had no other choice.
And he’s long tolerated the most insidious public lands agenda in the country: the push to sell off public lands.
Consider his position on William Perry Pendley, the recently ousted acting director of the Bureau of Land Management. Pendley, who illegally served in his position for 424 days before a federal judge booted him following a lawsuit from Governor Bullock, made his name as an anti-public lands crusader, calling loudly for the federal government to sell off all public lands east of the Mississippi.
Surely Daines has made it clear that, like almost all Montanans, he has no time for this extreme position?
In fact, he’s done the opposite. Despite countless opportunities, Daines has refused to speak out against Pendley and has gone so far as to stand up for him.
In November 2019, Daines said “Yes” when he was asked if he would support Pendley’s nomination as BLM director.
In August 2019, Daines called Montanans’ concerns about Pendley’s desire to sell off public lands “overblown.”
In July 2020, Daines’ spokesperson Katie Schoettler called the focus on Pendley “an election year political stunt” and a “diversion.”
And in August 2020, after well over a year of Montanans making it clear over and over again that they absolutely do not support Pendley, Schoettler said that “Sen. Daines has not made a final decision” on whether he would support Pendley.
Wanting to know Daines’ position on a federal leader who wants to sell off public lands is a stunt? And what more information could the senator be waiting for before making a final decision?
Daines wasn’t trying to learn more about Pendley — 424 days and a career of agitating for large-scale public land sell-offs tell you all you need to know, as does Pendley’s history of trying to gut Montana’s stream access law and bring oil and gas development to Glacier National Park’s doorstep.
He was trying to save his political skin by playing both sides and refusing to say what Montanans already know: selling public lands is a non-starter.
Even when the political math is clear as day, the senator just can’t bring himself to disavow Pendley and the land transfer movement.
And this isn’t the first time he’s revealed his land-transfer cards.
Back in 2015, when Daines was a freshman senator, he cast the deciding vote on a Senate amendment that would have enabled the transfer and sale of public lands. Amendment 838 created a reserve fund to provide for “the disposal of certain Federal land.” The amendment set the stage for the federal government to sell off national forest land, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, historic sites, and any other federal lands not protected by national park, national monument, or national preserve designation.
Imagine voting for an amendment that could see the places we most love — the Bob Marshall, the Scapegoat, the Selway Bitterroot,and Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Areas, the C. M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge — sold.
The amendment passed 51-49, with three Republican senators voting against it. Daines could have joined them in standing up for public lands — but he didn’t.
Selling off public lands isn’t what we wanted in 2015, and it sure isn’t what we want now. Our public lands are the foundation of our economy and the bedrock on which we’ve built our outdoor way of life. If Senator Daines hasn’t learned that by now, he never will.
It’s time to elect someone who’ll protect our public lands, not support selling them off.
Roger Otstot, of Billings, is a retired economist with the Bureau of Reclamation. Kari Gunderson, PhD., of Swan Valley, is a wilderness management educator and retired Mission Mountains Wilderness ranger. Marilyn Wolff, of Stevensville, is a retired benefits and resource specialist. Greg Schatz, of Columbia Falls, is a general contractor who enjoys packing horses on public lands.
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