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Governor Announces Push to Improve Access to MT Public Lands

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ammounced plans on Thursday to improve access to public lands. (froggidonna/morguefile)
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ammounced plans on Thursday to improve access to public lands. (froggidonna/morguefile)
June 10, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Gov. Steve Bullock announced a series of measures Thursday to improve access to public lands, saying they are an important part of the state's heritage.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation is worth about $6 billion to the Montana economy and supports 64,000 jobs. Bullock has created the position of public access specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. He said that person will troubleshoot access issues for the 2 million acres of public land hemmed in by private property.

"We see more and more access to rivers and public lands at times being behind locked gates, public access being denied," he said. "We can find creative ways to get access."

Bullock called on the Legislature to create a new Office of Outdoor Recreation to promote the state's outdoor industries. He also wants lawmakers to unfreeze funding for "Habitat Montana," a program that uses fees from hunting and fishing licenses to buy more public land.

Rick Graetz, a geography professor at the University of Montana, said his department has done two bipartisan polls that showed people favor recreation and conservation over commercial uses for public land.

"Across political lines, more and more people value public lands," he said. "They want access. They resent the fact that there are people coming in trying to close off that access."

At the Billings event, Bullock reaffirmed his commitment to ensure that public land is not sold off to private interests. The state also has set up an email address for people to add their views to the discussion:

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT