Public lands rally draws 2k to Capitol

HELENA (AP) — About 2,000 people filled the Montana Capitol for a rally to urge state and federal lawmakers to protect public lands.

A fired-up Gov. Steve Bullock told the crowd Friday that “public lands are our heritage” and must be preserved for future generations. He said, to cheers, that no state legislator has proposed a bill to transfer federal lands in Montana to state ownership.

Those who support land transfers argue the state could do a better job of managing resources, such as timber. Opponents counter management costs would be prohibitive, possibly forcing the state to sell to private owners.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana criticized Congress for failing to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which spends oil and gas royalties on conservation and outdoor recreation projects. It expired in October.