Opinion: Montana needs an independent watchdog who will defend our public lands

Great Falls Tribune

September 25, 2020

Public lands are about our values as Montanans, about family. Growing up in Great Falls, my father taught me to fish on public lands in the Little Belt Mountains. I want to someday take my young daughter to the same place my father took me.

But Montana’s public lands are under real threat from extremist politicians and out-of-state special interest groups wanting to sell them off. These places belong to all of us, and when politicians talk about selling off our lands, they’re attacking who we are as Montanans.

We need an attorney general who will be an independent watchdog that protects our public lands.

While politicians like to talk about public lands, I’ve fought for our public lands and access at the Montana Supreme Court and won. I fought for the Stenson family in Wibaux who wanted to use their own land to open up more public access. They invested years working with the state and the Habitat Montana program to preserve their ranching legacy and help the public. But a group of extremist politicians on the Land Board tried to pull the rug out from under them. They could have lost everything.

But we won. The Supreme Court’s landmark decision protected thousands of acres of public lands, increased access to prime hunting habitat, and saved the Stenson ranch and other working families just like them.

Protecting our outdoor legacy is a bipartisan issue in Montana. But my opponent, Austin Knudsen, supports extremist policies to take away our public lands and access. He voted to defund Habitat Montana, which I fought to protect. He voted to gut our stream access law so wealthy out-of-staters can lock us out. And he publicly supports the transfer of our public lands.

Even worse, he’s suing a group of veterans in his hometown of Culbertson, blocking them from accessing their own public park. Recently in our debate, I asked Knudsen about his lawsuit and why he’s suing veterans to take away their land. Knudsen lied to Montanans, saying he has no involvement in the lawsuit, yet he’s the vice president of the trust suing these veterans. His actions are disgraceful. This is not how we treat our veterans and it goes against everything we stand for as Montanans.

We can do better for Montana’s hunters and anglers, our veterans, and for families like the Stensons.

As attorney general, I’ll create the Public Access Advocate, an assistant attorney general who works with county attorneys, landowners, and local stakeholders to resolve access disputes before they arise. Public access disputes are a public problem that demands a public solution. The Public Access Advocate will work to solve that.

We’ll also expand programs like Habitat Montana and fight for farm and ranch families like the Stensons. Habitat Montana brings folks together to prevent conflict between hunters, anglers and landowners, opening up public access and preserving the character of our state. That’s the Montana way.

Finally, I’ll fight the out-of-state dark money that pours into Montana every election. Dark money groups don’t respect us. They think we, and our lands, can be bought. They’re wrong. I’ve stood up to dark money groups in court and won, and I’ll bring that same fight as attorney general. My opponent voted against Montana’s campaign finance laws and says he will not defend them. Our state belongs to Montanans, not out-of-state special interests.

Make no mistake, the threats to our public lands are real. I’m running to be your independent watchdog as attorney general and I’ll work with anyone, Republicans or Democrats, to fight for the places that belong to all of us.

Paid for by Friends of Raph Graybill, PO Box 2728, Great Falls, MT 59403. Democrat.

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