Lifelong Public Lands Champion Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney Releases Plan to Protect Public Lands, Outdoor Economy and Good-Paying Jobs

MONTANA—Today Lt. Governor Mike Cooney and running mate Casey Schreiner released their “Protect the Last Best Place” plan to protect public lands and access in Montana. Cooney and Schreiner are running against one of the most anti-public lands and anti-public lands access tickets in Montana history.

I’ve spent my career fighting for our public lands and I have a track record of delivering results for Montanans—as a legislator, as Secretary of State, and as Governor Bullock’s Lieutenant Governor,” said Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. “Now I’m running for Governor to carry on that fight. When I’m elected, I will do everything in my power to protect our public lands, our clean air and clean water, enhance our outdoor economy and support good-paying jobs.

Montanans can’t trust a millionaire from New Jersey—who bought a mansion in Montana and sued to block access to a popular fishing site by his property—to protect our public lands,” said Casey Schreiner. “There are powerful special interests who want to see our public lands privatized and sold off to the highest bidder. We can’t afford to take these lands for granted and we need strong leaders who are willing to stand up and fight back against attempts to take public lands out of public hands.

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Casey Schreiner are running against Congressman Greg Gianforte, an out-of-state millionaire who infamously sued the state of Montana to block access to a stream nearby one of his several properties. He supports transferring management of federal land and opposes buying any new land for state parks or fishing access sites. In Congress, Gianforte wrote legislation to strip protections from nearly 700,000 acres of public lands — without public input — a move described by conservation advocates as potentially “the single biggest rollback of protected public lands in Montana history.”

Cooney and Schreiner’s “Protect the Last Best Place” plan includes priorities for protecting Montana’s existing public lands and stream access laws, increasing access to landlocked public lands through easements, and bringing landowners and sportsmen and women together to strengthen Habitat Montana, the state’s premier access and conservation program. 

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Casey Schreiner’s “Protect the Last Best Place” plan includes:

PUBLIC ACCESS

Montanans enjoy some of the best access laws and programs in the United States. Our stream access law is the envy of the west, and our ability to bring landowners and sportsmen together through a variety of means is vital in ensuring not only access to land, but in building partnerships between user groups and industries that rely on each other for shared goals. Access is a Montana value; and one that Mike Cooney will work to increase and defend. 

With over 3.5 million acres of State Trust and Federally managed public lands currently off limits to Montanans, we’ll need every program we have, and then some, to open those lands up for hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers and others. As Governor, Mike Cooney will work to ensure that the current work underway to increase access remains, and is strengthened. Cooney will veto legislation that impairs or hurts our ability to increase access, damages our access programs, or privatizes our wildlife resource.

HABITAT MONTANA

Habitat Montana is Montana’s premier access and conservation program. For over 30 years, Montanans have found value in this program and conserved over 350,000 acres in both permanent access conservation easements and acquired wildlife management areas. In places like Wibaux County, a large portion of lands open for public access have come from this program. But the Legislature has spent considerable time and effort to either eliminate the program altogether, or hobble it by eliminating the ability to purchase new wildlife management areas, or strategic parcels that help unlock the over 3.5 million acres of public land that is currently inaccessible. As Governor, Mike Cooney will ensure that Habitat Montana is stronger, not weaker. 

PUBLIC ACCESS LANDS ACT

Passed in 2019, this new program seeks to increase access to landlocked public lands through easements. Based on recommendations from landowners and sportsmen, the PAL act is only now getting implemented. As Governor, Mike Cooney will work to make sure this program opens up landlocked public lands, but also doesn’t compromise existing routes where access may be in dispute. Only through a careful examination of existing routes will we be able to avoid unnecessary conflict and increase access to lands that all Montanans have a right to enjoy. 

BLOCK MANAGEMENT

Block Management currently has over 7 million acres enrolled for public hunting access. This wildly popular program is beloved by Montanans of all stripes. It provides landowners with a way to manage hunting on their lands, pays for the increased wear and tear on the land and ranch infrastructure, helps ensure the proper management of wildlife and provides families with high quality protein and high quality experiences. As we enter into a new decade, the fourth decade of this popular program, as Governor, Mike Cooney will look at ways to better compensate landowners, while increasing the quality experience for all Montanans. 

UNLOCKING PUBLIC LANDS

This program was first enacted in the 2013 Legislative Session and provides a tax incentive for allowing easements to open up landlocked public lands. In 2017, the legislation was made permanent and expanded to include landlocked federal lands. Montanans have not utilized this program well, and as Governor Mike Cooney will direct FWP to promote it more so we can ensure that this option is well advertised and available for landowners who are generous enough to engage in the program. 

FISHING ACCESS SITES

Montana provides world-class public access for anglers from all walks of life that are seeking to fish our waters, including the expansive network of FAS’s in all regions. With thoughtful investments, the legislature and agency have worked together to build and expand that network towards a goal of having a dedicated access point every twelve miles of navigable water. There is more work to be done to reach that goal, and as Governor Mike Cooney will ask the Legislature to expand and maintain the FAS program. 

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has played an important role in acquiring new access for anglers through the FAS program. In fact, more than three quarters of FAS locations have utilized funding from LWCF to become a reality. As Governor, Mike Cooney will work with our Congressional delegation to advocate for and secure full, permanent LWCF funding so we can expand public access in Montana.

STREAM ACCESS

Montanans enjoy the best in the nation stream access laws. As Governor, Mike Cooney will defend the state’s court-tested stream access at all costs, and will work with the legislature, landowners, and anglers to expand access in a way that balances private property rights and the public’s constitutional right to access our waterways.

OFFICE OF OUTDOOR RECREATION

Montana’s outdoor assets are one of our greatest treasures. We must invest in their well-being in order to continue gaining the economic and intrinsic values of the opportunities that these lands create.  That’s why keeping and strengthening the leadership of the Office of Outdoor Recreation will be high on Cooney’s list of priorities. Other states have seen dramatic increases in investments in this office, and as Governor, Mike Cooney will work to ensure that this office has the tools necessary to not only promote Montana’s world-class outdoor recreational experiences, but to bring businesses to Montana who share our love of place and our dedication to conserving the last, best place. 

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