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Montana’s governor selling us out to the highest bidder

by By GEORGE OCHENSKI
| February 2, 2024 7:00 AM

Longtime Montanans who are concerned about the direction in which our much-loved state is headed got a blunt reason from our governor last week when he said: “Montana is an easy product to sell.”

If anyone had any doubts, these words “from the horse’s mouth” pretty much say it all — our mega-millionaire governor sees our state as a market commodity to be sold.

For those who watch the policies Gianforte and his administration have embraced this comes as no surprise. If it can be sold to the highest bidder — from homes to state lands — it’s “for sale” under Gianforte.

One only need look at what’s been going on at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation where apparently the “conservation” part of the agency’s title has been sidelined for maximizing revenue from “natural resources.”

If you check the Trust Land Division’s Cabin and Homesite Sales site you might think you were reading something straight out of a Yellowstone Club sales pitch — with prices to match! 

And guess what? Many of the sites and cabins were owned by Montanans for years, but are now driven out by the high taxes and lease rates. But that’s the way it goes when you’re selling Montana to the highest bidders.

Or how about Gianforte’s rush to log every possible tree off state forests? Most Montanans don’t track those sales, either —  until they go to their favorite stream or campground to find a stumpfield where once a forest stood.

Despite the fact that northwest Montana had so little precipitation last year that Flathead Lake didn’t fill, apparently the very real effects of the climate crisis mean nothing when it comes to “getting out the cut.”

In fact, in spite of last year’s landmark court ruling that Montana has to take climate change into account when issuing permits, Gianforte and the Republican-dominated Legislature ignored that when calculating the so-called “annual sustainable yield” from state forests.

Despite the increasingly drier and hotter conditions — as well as new species such as wolverine and lynx added to the Endangered Species List — the current sustained yield level is 60 million board feet. Last year the state offered 62.5 million board feet for sale but only sold 52 million, meaning the state was willing to log more state lands than the timber industry even bid on.

Apparently the requirements of the law that the annual sustained yield must be calculated by “taking into account the ability of state forests to generate replacement tree growth” have been largely ignored by Gianforte’s administration.

All this is somewhat puzzling since the act of “governing” in Montana is supposed to be directed by Montana’s Constitution that specifically mandates: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” It also includes the provision that: “The legislature shall provide adequate remedies for the protection of the environmental life support system from degradation and provide adequate remedies to prevent unreasonable depletion and degradation of natural resources.”


Then again, as one Republican friend quipped recently: “adherence to the Constitution is not the ladder to success in the Republican Party.” And indeed, as the court cases stack up against the blatant unconstitutional laws and actions of the Gianforte administration and the Legislature, that truth seems self-evident.

All you have to do is look around to see our rivers are degrading and our forests are disappearing.
Why?

Because our governor, Greg Gianforte, looks at Montana as “an easy product to sell” — and he’s doing just that, selling our future to the highest bidder as a “product.”

George Ochenski is a longtime Helena resident, an environmental activist and Montana’s longest-running columnist.