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I see an America whose rivers and valleys and lakes and hills and streams and plains, the mountains over our land and nature’s wealth deep under the earth, are protected as the rightful heritage of all the people.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

As we buffed out our Christmas wish list this year — a gift came from the most unexpected place in the world – Congress.

We know what you’re thinking – that we've been dipping too far down the eggnog and Wild Turkey trough. How could Congress deliver anything these days? However, before heading home for the holidays, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, John Walsh and Congressman Steve Daines united to protect two of Montana’s most special places, ensuring future generations will always have the freedom to fish, hunt and camp.

The North Fork Watershed Protection Act will protect the crystal clear waters and bull trout habitat of the North Fork of the Flathead River from future oil and gas leasing near Glacier National Park. Congress also passed the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, a made-in-Montana bill to protect one of the last best places to hunt, fish and watch wildlife through additions to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and other designations.

The protection of these iconic places is far more valuable than any gift you will find under your tree this year. Even that new 8- weight saltwater rod.

These bills will bolster our economy in the long- term; our customers spend lots of money each year fishing our blue ribbon trout streams. They buy hotel rooms, gas, new waders/rods/flies/packs, food and gifts. Just one single day of fishing puts hundreds of Montanans to work across the state. And that’s just fishing.

Consider that all of the other recreational opportunities folks have on these lands feeds the $5.8 billion ($646 billion nationally, $5.8 billion and 64,000 jobs in Montana alone, statistics from 2012 Outdoor Industry Association report) outdoor industry. These bills will bolster one of Montana’s growing economic bright spots.

Unlike our economy, you can’t put a price tag on leadership. Tester, Walsh and Daines looked beyond partisan politics, listened to Montanans and worked together. These bills were both locally hatched efforts fashioned in the spirit of compromise and community participation. When Montanans work together to build local solutions we expect Congress to do the same.

These lands and rivers are not just a gift for us; they are a gift for our children, and our children’s children. Your new waders will need to be replaced and your raft will too. Only land and rivers withstand the test of time. These bills are a present for the generations that come after us. They will need places to fish and relax just as much as we do.

This holiday, we hope you join us in giving thanks to our entire Congressional delegation for exhibiting the qualities of leadership we sent them to Washington, D.C., for. Tester, Walsh and Daines can return home to Montana this holiday season knowing they gave Montana a gift worth giving.

There’s still more valuable work to do. Full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is on the top of our wish list for 2015, as is protecting the iconic Smith River fishery from potential harm resultant of the Black Butte mine. But for the time being, the future of Montana’s outdoor heritage just got a little brighter.

This opinion is signed by Ben Bulis of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, K.C. Walsh of Simms Fishing Products, Jim Klug of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, Dan Rice of Bozeman Reel Co., Steve Summerhill of River’s Edge, Michael White and Nick English of Blue Ribbon Reps, John Bailey of Dan Bailey’s, John McKinnie of Lone Mountain Ranch, Alice Owsley of Riverside Anglers, Erin Kane of Flyvines, Joe Dilschneider of Montana Trout Stalkers, Mike Bushly of Trout Montana and Andrew Schreiner of Grizzly Outfitters.

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