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Montana’s economy depends on our public lands
Guest column

Montana’s economy depends on our public lands

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Norman Maclean’s grandson, Noah Snyder, casts into a pool offshore of the Blackfoot River during a 2017 float with several local supporters of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. The bill offered by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, would add about 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Mission Mountain and Scapegoat wilderness areas.

Our public lands are integral to who we are as Montanans. Our love for wild spaces and appreciation of outdoor adventure is a unifying factor for everyone who calls Montana home. Our public lands are also much more than something pretty to look at — they are a crucial part of our state’s economy, and play a significant role in diversifying and strengthening the businesses that are built in our communities.

In Montana, 71,000 jobs and $7.1 billion in economic activity is linked to our growing outdoor recreation economy. We are blessed with rich outdoor assets that boast 33.8 million acres of public land and nearly 170,000 miles of river that collectively help generate $286 million in stat and local taxes. Montanans care about our outdoors, with 95% saying that outdoor recreation is important to their quality of life.

These factors all support the cause for celebration, which is why it’s an honor to be participating in the third annual Last Best Outdoors Fest coming to Missoula this Wednesday, Sept. 4.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Montana Jobs and the Outdoors: Highlighting the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.” When we talk about our outdoors as a crucial economic driver, we must also highlight specific policies that protect and increase access to our public lands.

One shining example of collaborative work aimed at protecting the places we love that drive our communities is the home-grown efforts that have taken place over the last decade to inform and guide the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. The beauty of the effort is that local folks from different backgrounds were able to work together to come up with a Montana-made solution that enjoys broad support from timber, recreation, business, ranching and conservation communities.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act addresses three key areas: forest health, new recreation opportunities and wilderness corridors crucial for big game habitat. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act also includes protections for the health of the Blackfoot River watershed including key tributaries such as the North Fork, Monture Creek, Morrell Creek and the West Fork of the Clearwater.

Featured at this year’s event will be prominent advocates for public lands, including outfitters, entrepreneurs and businesses who inherently connect with the value of the outdoors. Headlining the event will be U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is leading the effort to usher the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act through Congress, and who will moderate a dialogue with Montana businesses who value the assets that our outdoors present — in the Blackfoot Clearwater watershed, and beyond.

This year’s Last Best Outdoors Fest is a great opportunity to highlight both the economic impact of our public lands, and the policies that bolster our outdoor amenities. We hope you’ll join us for a mix of substantive conversations as well as a free outdoor festival coming up on Wednesday.

Bring a friend or colleague along to join in on the celebration, and arrive early to receive a complimentary stainless-steel pint glass before they run out!

The Last Best Outdoors Fest is free and open to the public. It will be held in Missoula Wednesday, Sept. 4, beginning with a panel discussion at the Wilma at 3 p.m. followed by live music at Caras Park.

This opinion is signed by Todd Frank of The Trailhead and Connie Long of Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters.

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