With the current tone of politics in our country, we’re led to believe there is little agreement between Republicans and Democrats. But National politics is its own monster, and there are many values that both parties (and all those in between) share in Montana, or at least we used to. First and foremost is a love of Montana’s public lands.
However, the long-respected tradition of protecting our wild areas for the enjoyment of all changed drastically this past legislative session. This is best evidenced by the new requirement for Recreation Licenses. The days of free public recreation are now gone. HB521, sponsored by Republican Denley Loge (HD14) was signed into law by Governor Gianforte and went into effect July 1, 2023. This bills requires Montanans to purchase a recreation license in order to enjoy our public lands. Not to be confused with the existing requirement for fishing licenses, this new Conservation License is required even if you simply want to go walk a trail and look at wildlife with your children. Children 12 and older are also required to purchase a license.
The Fish Wildlife and Parks website explains,
“A Conservation License is required to access most state lands. Before this year, only hunters, anglers and trappers were required to purchase a Conservation License. Starting this year, all types of recreation users need one.”
Although Republicans argue that the small fee means this new law is no cause for alarm, making public lands pay-to-play is but one step in making Montana a playground for the wealthy. Montana is changing, drastically and quickly. Beloved Chico Hot Springs was recently purchased by an out-of-state company. The fight to save Holland Land from luxury commercial development continues. Trout numbers are falling and climate change is ruining summer plans for wealthy boaters on Flathead lake. Combine the push for luxury development with a new law that prevents Montana from exploring the impacts of climate change and we have a recipe for disaster.
Despite decades of agreement on the importance of public lands and conservation, all its taken is one terrible governor and one supermajority to fundamentally change Montana’s access to the state that we love. If folks continue to prioritize voting along party lines, soon we won’t have public lands to save.
Read about the new conservation license requirements here:
Read about the trout crisis here:
Read about the sale of Chico Hot Springs here:
Read about the fight to save Holland lake here:
Read about the Flathead Lake water levels here: