On Thursday, February 22, hundreds of hunters and anglers gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in Helena, Montana. Huddled around propane heaters amid subzero temperatures, we’d come to protest a slew of newly-introduced bills that threaten the state’s hard-won culture of fair-minded access to hunting, fishing, and public lands. If passed, the legislative measures would restrict entry to public lands, siphon money away from critical conservation programs, threaten the state’s cherished stream access law, and upend habitat protections enshrined in the Montana State Constitution.
As someone who recently moved to Montana in part because of its access to vast wild country, I’d decided to head to Helena from my home in the Bitterroot Valley to attend the rally in person. By the time I arrived at the capitol building, a crowd had already amassed. Hunters and anglers clapped, cheered, and chanted slogans in unison. It was five degrees below zero with a windchill of -20, but these people were on fire. The sound of their applause—muffled slightly by heavy mittens and gloves—resonated across the north lawn of the capitol. Then a series of impassioned local speakers took the podium to air their grievances with the “bad bills.”
Public land rallies have become something a fixture during Montana’s last five legislative sessions. The goal is simple: Send a clear message to Big Sky politicians that hunters and anglers won’t stand idly by when threatened by political schemes designed to divest them of public ground or chip away at hunting and fishing access.
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