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Public-Lands Supporters Lay Out 2019 Session Priorities

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., touts the Land and Water Conservation Fund during his surprise appearance at a public-lands rally in Helena. (Whitney Tawney/Montana Conservation Voters)
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., touts the Land and Water Conservation Fund during his surprise appearance at a public-lands rally in Helena. (Whitney Tawney/Montana Conservation Voters)
January 15, 2019

HELENA, Mont. — After a rally in Helena last week, advocates for public lands are setting their agenda for this year's session.

The rally attracted about 1,600 Montanans and featured speeches from Gov. Steve Bullock and a surprise appearance by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Ryan Busse is on the board of directors for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and an executive in the firearms industry; he spoke at the rally and said the atmosphere was electric.

Busse commended past "public-land patriots" for their legacy of protection and wants his generation to add to it.

"Things that help strengthen the public land in state are important to us and we should want to participate in that way from an active standpoint, improving upon what we have - not just using it,” Busse said.

Busse formerly chaired the board of directors of the Montana Conservation Voters. He wants state lawmakers to strengthen the Habitat Montana bill, which secures easements for access to public lands, and pass a bill that allows Montanans to legally cross between public parcels only attached at their corners. He also would like to see legislation that increases the fee for blocking public access to trails or roads.

Busse said protecting public lands is not just integral for Montanans' way of life but also their livelihoods. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $2.2 billion a year in wages and salaries in Montana.

"A fly shop or a restaurant or a hotel or somebody like me who works in the outdoor industry designing and selling gear for these things - a tour operator! I mean, I could go on and on and on and on," he said. "But tens of thousands of people in our state rely upon these for their economic well-being, so it's really intertwined in not just life but economy as well."

At the Helena rally, Tester spoke about the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, federal legislation that increases access to public lands. Busse says this is a priority for conservation groups in Montana as well.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT