Montana has superior values as the last best place. Our public lands and our sense of community are two of the most important. Our lives and businesses are surrounded by public lands.
Every weekend, our teams recharge their batteries on our public lands hiking, hunting, fishing and enjoying places in our backyard with families and friends. These public lands provide us with a competitive advantage for recruitment and support our desire to build a cohesive, refreshed team that works hard together.
Recreation and an outdoor way of life are the great equalizers across Montana. It doesn’t matter if you are an outfitter or a manufacturer, a hunter or a hiker, a billionaire or a college student, a farmer or a framer; public lands belong to all of us.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ recently introduced plan to unilaterally remove protections on nearly half a million acres of public lands in Montana presents a potentially devastating blow to the businesses and communities that rely on those public lands. Without a thoughtful and thorough process on the front end of introducing this legislation, Montanans’ voices are not heard, and the livelihoods that depend on these places are ignored.
The bill, the “Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act," targets five wilderness study areas (WSAs) in Montana. It aims to remove protections from the Blue Joint WSA in the Bitterroot, the Sapphire WSA east of Hamilton, the Middle Fork Judith WSA, the Big Snowies WSA south of Lewistown and the West Pioneer WSA east of Wisdom.
Montana’s outdoor economy generates $2.2 billion in wages and salaries, $7.1 billion in consumer spending, $286 million in state and local revenue and supports 71,000 jobs. When asked, nearly ¾ of Montana businesses cite the outdoor way of life as a significant factor in their decision to do business here. So broadly removing protections on nearly half a million acres of public lands without Montanans’ public comment or stakeholder dialogue is a big red flag.
The issue is not whether these public lands should be designated as wilderness or not. It’s not about pitting mining or oil and gas development against our tech and outdoor recreation sectors. It’s not about picking sides on which kinds of recreational uses should be the priority, or who should be entitled to use these places for the activities they most love.
The issue is making decisions about public land protections on nearly half a million acres of Montana land without considering a broad spectrum of input from Montanans and running a thoughtful, inclusive grassroots process to arrive at a widely supported outcome. Making public land decisions without first engaging our communities and working together as Montanans, creates doubt in our businesses and among our teams, and inhibits our ability to plan for growth. More importantly, it goes against our Montana values. This is about trusting that Montanans will have valid, thoughtful input on how these lands should be used, and managed.
Simply put, Senator Daines owes it to Montanans to allow us to work together on these public lands solutions. Let’s pursue a thoughtful grassroots process that incorporates local communities and local input across Montana. Let’s reach policies that are inclusive, locally driven, and keep in mind the Montanans most affected. Trusting Montanans, and giving our small businesses a seat at the table, can only lead to the best decisions. We can be part of a smart, responsible, constructive solution, if given the opportunity.