Last Thursday, two freshman students from the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers club at the University of Montana skipped class and braved single-digit temperatures to attend the Rally for Public Lands hosted by a coalition or organizations with a shared commitment to keep public lands public and accessible, to defend habitat conservation funding and to uphold our outdoor heritage.
Claire McAtee and Joe Graff listened to speakers Mariah Gladstone, Cole Mannix, Hannah Muszkiewicz, and Ryan Callaghan as they fired up the crowd, reminding us what makes Montana so special and why it's important to hold those in our elected positions accountable.
After the rally, the students switched their camo and Carhartt for business casual and got a tour of the Capitol from the Montana BHA chapter lobbyist, Matt Leow. They sat in on the Senate and House floor sessions where a variety of bills were being voted on. Additionally, they tuned into the House Fish, Wildlife, & Parks committee hearing where Montana BHA was providing testimony on four bills.
One of the goals of BHA's Collegiate Program is to equip students with the knowledge and skills to be able to advocate for our public lands and hunting heritage effectively. This Capitol visit was the beginning of a greater effort to immerse our students in public lands policy and to equip them with the education and confidence they'll need to be a future voice for our public lands and waters.
Claire and Joe both became involved in the club at UM after participating in the university's Big Sky Experience which immerses incoming freshmen in community organizations. BHA hosted mornings of hiking and fly fishing as a way to showcase our local public lands and waters to new students. Claire and Joe also chose to step up as club leaders, serving on the club board, starting at the beginning of the spring semester. They both hail from the east coast and are majoring in wildlife biology.