New leader steps up for the American Lands Council

Montana lawmaker takes over lands transfer group, as a new tendril of the movement emerges.

 

The organization leading the charge for Western states to take over federal lands has a new leader. Montana State Sen. Jennifer Fielder is stepping up as CEO of the American Lands Council, while founding president and Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory is moving on to become director of the “Free The Lands” Project with Federalism In Action. The latter is a nonprofit policy group that supports states’ rights and public-lands transfers to states or local communities. The shift comes as the ALC and the public-lands transfer agenda have faced growth and criticism, and as militant fellow travelers gain notoriety for the movement.

Ivory cofounded the ALC in 2012 to push for the transfer or seizure of national forests and rangelands to states or local governments. Since then, Ivory has rallied Sagebrush Rebels and anti-government supporters and shepherded a West-wide public-lands crusade that has gained traction from county commission offices to state legislatures. Fielder, already a frequent speaker on behalf of the ALC, moves into her position with her own connections to right-wing extremists.

A businesswoman who specialized in outdoor recreation planning and community projects, Fielder was elected as a state senator in 2012, representing Thompson Falls and surrounding counties in Northwestern Montana. She quickly emerged as a leading voice for the ALC and the public-lands takeover movement in Montana. In 2013, she successfully introduced a resolution authorizing a legislative working group, which she then chaired, to carry out a survey of federal land management in the state. Critics said the group’s 2014 final report had “a hidden agenda” promoting transferring federal lands to the state. A 2015 bill she backed to create a public-lands transfer task force made it through the state legislature, despite opposition from conservation and sportsmen’s groups, but was vetoed by Governor Steve Bullock, D.

“It won’t be a whole lot different than what I’ve been doing, educating people and trying to keep moving in a positive direction,” Fielder told the Helena Independent Record, of her new position. “I believe (federal lands transfer) is the right thing for Montana and that’s the whole reason I support local decision making. But I realize that to help Montana you have to get other states to see the plight.”

Montana State Sen. Jennifer Fielder, the new CEO of the American Lands Council.
Thom Bridge/Independent Record

Fielder is vice chair of the Montana Republican Party and has served as a board member of the Sanders Natural Resources Council, a county natural resources advisory committee that has backed county “coordination” and local authority over federal lands. John Trochmann, founder of the anti-government Militia of Montana, which has ties to white-supremacist groups, started the council in 2006, according to a 2012 Montana Human Rights Network report. Fielder also has connections with the Oath Keepers, a constitutionalist militia group.

The transition comes after the ALC — and Fielder — have weathered ethics complaints in several states, suggesting the group was illegally lobbying, in the past year. In Montana, an aide for Fielder resigned after it was disclosed he was also working as a lobbyist for the ALC, a potential violation of state legislative rules. This January, a report revealed that Ivory made $135,000 as president of the ALC in 2014, accounting for half of the group’s revenue, which comes through memberships to counties, businesses and individuals. Fielder said her CEO position is “voluntary and unpaid.”

During the recent standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, Fielder penned an op-ed, supporting the protesting militants’ cause and the Oregon ranchers whose prison sentences set off the occupation, while bashing federal land management and promoting the ALC. “But rather than take up arms in what could become a deadly outcome,” she wrote, “there is a better way to increase the local people’s voice in how our public lands are managed. Over 1,000 elected officials already support transferring federally controlled public lands to willing state or local governments, as do several presidential candidates. Support is growing as more and more people learn the facts about this issue.”

“Good luck to Sen. Fielder with her working for any organization she wants to,” Montana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Dave Chadwick also told the Helena Independent Record, “but I certainly don’t think it reflects any growing Montana support for the cost of transferring federal lands.”

Joshua Zaffos is an HCN correspondent based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Follow him @jzaffos.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...