Public Lands, Access, and Guns a Focus in Montana Gubernatorial Contest

Jun 9, 2016

Governor Steve Bullock, D-MT, talks with members of the crowd of hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who attended his public lands and access agenda at Riverfront Park in Billings.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka / Yellowstone Public Radio


Montana’s gubernatorial candidates took only a short break in their campaigns after the June 7, 2016 primary election.  Two days later they were back in Billings to talk about public lands, access to those lands, and guns.

Governor Steve Bullock rolled out his agenda at Riverfront Park near the banks of the Yellowstone River.

He pledged to expand and protect public access to public lands and waters. To help do that, he’s hiring a Public Access Specialist to be based out of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The Democrat wants to create the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“This is an issue that transcends party politics,” he says. “It’s not about Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians or vegetarians. It’s about doing what’s right for all Montana.”
 Bullock says it’s his responsibility as governor to uphold the Montana value of protecting the state’s outdoor heritage. He also calls on the Montana Legislature to fully fund Habitat Montana.

“I think the real lesson in his announcement today is he’s calling for more government,” says Republican challenger Greg Gianforte. “That’s the last thing we need.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte taking a break from shooting clays at Blue Creek Shooting Sports Complex south of Billings.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

The Bozeman businessman calls himself a huge proponent of public lands and public land access.

“I’m in Montana because of public lands,” Gianforte says. “I’m a huge proponent for public access.”
Gianforte lives near the East Gallatin river. “We’ve always welcomed people on our property,” he says. “There’s 3-5 cars parked on our property every single day.”

 He says the real issue is Montana needs is a strong private sector that creates jobs.

“What we need to do is lower taxes, put more money back in people’s pockets, and lower regulations so it’s easier for small businesses to thrive here,” Gianforte says. “The governor wants to create sideshows around fabricated scenarios. He either has his facts wrong or he’s outright lying for political gain.”

Bullock says public lands and public access are part of the state’s economic engine.

“Our outdoor economy, it’s $6 billion in consumer spending each and every year,” Bullock says. He says Montana ought to be promoting and increasing that outdoor economy every day.

That’s fine, says former Texas Governor Rick Perry, but it’s not enough. Perry, a Republican, was campaigning on behalf of Gianforte in Billings.

Former Governor Rick Perry, R-TX, takes a break to talk with media after an afternoon of shooting clays at BCSS south of Billings. Perry was in Montana to endorse Greg Gianforte's gubernatorial candidacy.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

“If you think you’re going to get Montana on an upward tract economically by just promoting hunting and fishing that’s a high hurdle,” Perry says.

“I love hunting and fishing,” he says. “But what the governor of the state needs to be focused on is how do you create a climate where job creators know they can risk their capital and have a chance to have a return on their investment.”

Perry is in Montana to endorse Gianforte, along with a NRA representative. They took time out yesterday to shoot clays at the Blue Creek Shooting Sports Complex.

Bullock says he too is a strong proponent of the 2nd Amendment.

“It’s a right and a value that I will continue to support and defend both for personal defense and for hunting and outdoor recreation,” Bullock says. “But also let’s remember when it comes to the hunting and outdoor part, you’ll have no where to shoot these guns if we lose all these public lands.”

Bullock also took a swipe at Texas and Perry’s support of Gianforte. He points to the fact most hunting there has to take place on private land or through outfitters and guides.

“If the model they’re looking for is the Texas model of wildlife management and the Texas model of public lands and hunting, I don’t want that here for sure,” says Bullock. “And hopefully former Governor Perry recognizes that we’re doing some good things here and I don’t want those Texas ideas coming to our state.”
Perry says states get to decide how they want to live. He says he’s never heard Gianforte say Montana ought to be like Texas relative to public lands.

“I don’t think the people of Montana will fall for it. They want jobs,” says the former Texas governor.
Bullock says public lands are a matter of Montana values and it’s a matter of dollars and cents for the state budget.