ICYMI: Greg Gianforte An “Unprecedented” Threat to Montana’s “Unique” Public Land Access
Today, Outside Magazine slammed Montana GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte for his abysmal record on public land access, explaining that a potential Gianforte administration would result in “an unprecedented assault on public access, threatening jobs that rely on outdoor recreation and even potentially impacting the state’s booming outdoor-recreation economy.”
New Jersey multi-millionaire Greg Gianforte has long been a threat to Montana’s unique public lands and stream access laws. As Montana’s sole Congressman, Gianforte introduced a pair of bills to strip protections from 700,000 acres of public lands, and supported the appointment of the now-ousted William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management, who has advocated for “selling off almost all public lands.” Gianforte also sued Montanans to block access to a stream in front of his riverfront mansion.
Gianforte doubled down on his commitment to denying Montanans access to the state’s public lands by choosing a running mate who shares the same goal. Kristen Juras has strongly criticized “the development of Montana law allowing public access to rivers via private land.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, the Democratic nominee for governor, issued a warning to Gianforte: “Anyone who wants to mess with [Montanans’ public land access] will have to go through me first.”
Read more about Gianforte’s anti-public lands record below.
Outside Magazine: In Montana, Stream Access Is on the Ballot
Montana’s stream access law grants anglers, floaters, and other recreational users the ability to access most rivers, creeks, and streams—even where they flow through private property. (This is not always the case in other states.) It’s one of the things that makes Montana such a uniquely special place to live, but it’s threatened by the state’s Republican candidate for governor, Greg Gianforte, and his potential lieutenant, Kristen Juras, should they be elected. Such a move would represent an unprecedented assault on public access, threatening jobs that rely on outdoor recreation and even potentially impacting the state’s booming outdoor-recreation economy.
What all this adds up to is a best-case scenario for public access. Your right to access a river or stream is protected, even if it flows through private property. The rights of private landowners are also protected, as the public is only able to access rivers and streams within the water’s boundaries, via roadways that intersect them, or through established easements.
“Montana’s stream access law—like our public lands—is about who we are as Montanans,” lieutenant governor Mike Cooney wrote in an email to Outside. “You don’t have to be a multimillionaire to fish on our blue ribbon trout streams.” Cooney, a Democrat, is also running for governor.
Of course, the stream access law has been challenged multiple times by those multimillionaires. And one of those lawsuits came from governor candidate Gianforte.
Following a failed 2016 gubernatorial campaign, Gianforte won the congressional seat vacated by Ryan Zinke when Zinke became interior secretary in 2017.
There, in collaboration with Steve Daines, Gianforte introduced legislation to strip protections from 700,000 acres of public land in Montana. The measure failed, but according to the Missoulian, it would have been “the single biggest rollback of protected public lands in Montana history.”
Gianforte has since voted against conservation and environmental protections on 85 of 88 occasions, netting him a 5 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.
While serving in Congress, Gianforte expressed support for William Perry Pendley’s tenure as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management.
Gianforte is running for governor alongside Kristen Juras, a lawyer from Great Falls. And her record on the stream access law is almost as troubled has her running mate’s.
In 2009, East Gallatin LLC, a financial vehicle owned by Gianforte, sued Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, arguing that an access easement to the East Gallatin River through the property where the Gianfortes live was invalid, since it had been negotiated with a previous owner of the property. It also argued that users of the easement were causing unspecified damages to the property. A fence was installed to block public access before the suit was filed.
The matter was resolved out of court, with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks returning the fence to its previous boundaries, conducting mitigation work to prevent the spread of weeds (possibly the damage cited in the suit), and restoring public access. You can visit and fish Gianforte’s property to this day, as you can on any other river or stream in the state.
“I’ve been very clear all along that public lands must stay in public hands,” Gianforte said on Montana Public Radio in 2017, one year before he wrote the legislation that would have stripped protections from hundreds of thousands of acres of state public land.
Lieutenant Governor Cooney, noting the $7.1 billion and 71,000 jobs that “depend on our ability to access public lands and streams,” is standing behind the law. “Anyone who wants to mess with that will have to go through me first,” he warns.