In Missoula on Tuesday, February 9th, about 100 students from Big Sky High School walked out of class early to protest the proposed leasing of Otter Creek coal, and to send a message to the Land Board that students do not want coal mined in their names. The Otter Creek coal tracts are located under state school-trust lands, which means all income the state receives from exploitation of those lands should be used to fund the state’s education system. After leaving classes in defiance of Big Sky administrators’ efforts to enforce school authority, many students then marched about a mile to the busy intersection of South & Reserve where they held a rally, chanting slogans such as “No blood for money! We gotta keep Otter Creek!”
“We, as students from Big Sky High School, do not want our school funding to come from coal,” said Allison Lawrence, one of the protesters at the rally. “We would rather live with old books than get blood money for shiny new computers.”
On Thursday, February 11, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will submit its official recommendation to the Land Board about a next course of action to be taken at the February 16 meeting. It is worth mentioning that the only member of the Land Board to vote against leasing Otter Creek at the last meeting is Denise Juneau, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the very institution that would supposedly benefit financially from mining Otter Creek! If other members who voted for leasing the coal tracts only on the condition of getting maximum income from the lease stay true to their words, then next week’s meeting could result in an end to this whole misguided attempt to destroy pristine Montana land. A refusal to lower the bid and royalty prices may effectively protect Otter Creek… for now.