Public lands rally draws thousands to Montana Capitol

    Organizers of the Public Lands Rally at the State Capitol said each year their crowd size has increased since 2015. (Photo: NBC Montana) <p>{/p}

    It was the state legislature's noisiest session yet, as thousands of people crowded the state capitol's rotunda.

    The fifth day of Montana's 2019 legislative session wrapped up Friday with a huge rally.

    This marked the third year of the Public Lands Rally held at the capitol in Helena.

    Organizers say this year's crowd surpassed last year's attendance with over 2,000 people.

    Their message was clear -- Montanans love their public lands.

    "Public lands define what it means to be a Montanan. They are the reason we live here and love our lives here in Montana," said Kayje Booker with the Montana Wilderness Association.

    Many of the ralliers had been bused in from all across the state, with residents of all ages and all demographics saying their voices mattered.

    "It's hard to know what's coming up here in the state legislature, as the governor mentioned. I think there's 3,000 bill drafts, and so we really wanted to send a message early in the legislative session to let our elected officials know that we're watching, that we're paying attention and that anything that would compromise our public lands is not an option in this session," said Booker.

    "Any bill that helps protect or enhance public access to allow us to have access to landlocked public lands that we do not have access to right now -- also to increase the penalties for those who illegally block roads to our public access -- those are some major bills we hope to see passed this session," said Ryan Busse, chairman of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

    Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock rallied with the crowd, reminding them that public lands are for everyone.

    Professor of Native American studies and Crow tribe member Shane Doyle also spoke at the rally and sang a Northern Cheyenne honor song for the crowd.

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