Montana’s public lands, clean rivers and streams, and abundant wildlife are the envy of hunters, anglers, backpackers, floaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts around the world. We are fortunate to have laws in place that ensure our natural resources are protected and open to the public, as well as a State Constitution that specifically protects our right to a clean and healthy environment.
November’s Supreme Court election, in which sitting Justice Ingrid Gustafson is challenged by professional lobbyist James Brown, will have serious consequences for these legal protections, our right to access our public lands and waters, and the future of our outdoor traditions.
Justice Gustafson has been a judge for nearly 20 years and has a reputation as a fair and independent jurist who carefully reviews the evidence and the law before making decisions. Through his thoughtful and balanced approach, Gustafson protected our rights under the Montana Constitution, our outdoor traditions, and our freedom to hunt, fish, hike, and spend time outdoors with our families.
Brown is well known in Helena for his long career as a paid professional lobbyist. Over the years, he has worked as a mercenary for special interests, from bankers and undertakers to wool farmers and the energy industry.
One of Mr Brown’s most troubling ties is his long relationship with the so-called “Citizens for Balanced Use”. This radical organization has long campaigned against the protection of the environment, drinking water and public lands. They seek to open up our public lands to more traffic, more mining and more development. They opposed the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funded trails, fishing access sites and parks throughout Montana. They support the ceding of national forests and other national public lands to state control, which all experts believe will lead to the sale and sequestration of these lands by private interests. Brown even sued the US Forest Service on behalf of the organization just weeks before declaring his candidacy.
Hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts should be deeply concerned about the prospect of someone with Brown’s agenda holding a seat on the Supreme Court. Will he protect our water access law and the rights of hunters and hikers to use public roads to access public lands, or will he side with special interests who seek to take advantage of the closure of public access? Will he uphold the precedent that our Constitution protects our clean air and clean water, or will he side with out-of-state industrial developers who want to exploit and pollute our lands and waters? ?
Fortunately, we have a better choice. Judge Gustafson is not a politician or a paid lobbyist. She was first appointed as a district court judge by Republican Governor Judy Martz and re-elected three times before her nomination to the Supreme Court in 2017. As a judge and justice, she has distinguished herself by her impartial review of cases brought before her. The people of Montana depend on justice with this kind of balanced commitment to uphold the laws that protect our lands, waters and access.
Judicial elections do not always present such a clear choice for our natural resources and outdoor traditions. Montanans who support public lands, public access, wildlife, water, and clean air — as well as our state Constitution and impartial justice over special interests — must re-elect Justice Ingrid Gustafson.
Dave Chadwick is a former executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation. Bruce Farling is a former executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited.