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Opinion: Rivers are Montana's lifeblood
Guest column

Opinion: Rivers are Montana's lifeblood

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An open letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, U.S. Rep.  Matt Rosendale, and Gov. Greg Gianforte:

Montana businesses urge you to reintroduce and pass the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act to safeguard Montana’s future.

Clean water and free-flowing streams ensure the future of Montana’s communities, our robust agricultural and outdoor recreation economies, our jobs and a healthy environment.

The state’s rivers and streams provide more than just places to play or vital habitat for our cherished fish and wildlife species. These waterways fuel almost every aspect of Montana’s economy. They are a shared asset that crosses demographics, geographic boundaries and economic sectors.

Our rivers provide livelihoods for our guides and outfitters, water our farms and ranches, and are a major driver for our $7.1 billion outdoor recreation industry. They support the high quality of life and outdoor amenities that bring new businesses to the state while motivating families to stay and students to find a way back. They are an integral part of Montana, and they deserve the attention and care that any major economic asset would warrant.

Through years of hard work and extensive public outreach by Montanans for Healthy Rivers, a collection of some of our most beloved rivers have been identified by the public as treasures deserving of permanent protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This coalition has done more than its due diligence in collaborating energy and interests from over 1,000 businesses, 200 different groups, 3,000 individuals, as well as tribes, state, and federal agencies across Montana. In fact, a 2020 bipartisan University of Montana poll showed that the legislation is supported by an overwhelming eight out of 10 Montanans.

This outreach has allowed Montanans from all walks of life to contribute their input on which rivers they cherish most, which face current or future threats, and most importantly, which conservation tools should be implemented to ensure that our rivers remain intact and viable for generations to come.

We are not all anglers or outfitters, we are not all in the recreation or tourism industry, and we do not all necessarily solely depend on Montana’s rivers directly for our livelihoods. The common thread we all share is the fact that our rivers are a driving reason why our businesses are in Montana.

These businesses lend full support to the made-in-Montana, Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, which proposes to protect our most deserving rivers using the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This action will protect clean water, remarkable recreation opportunities, ecological values, our agriculture- and tourism-based economy, and our enviable way of life. We applaud Senator Tester for introducing this highly-sought legislation last year. We now urge all of Montana’s legislators to please reintroduce and pass the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act to safeguard our future. Now is the time to protect our state’s most valuable rivers and streams before irreparable damage is done to this critical piece of Montana’s economy.

Marne Hayes writes for Business for Montana’s Outdoors. 

This opinion is also signed by Ali Knapp, Wisetail, Bozeman; Amy Beck, Oboz Footwear, Bozeman; Andrew Tuller, Outa Ware, Bozeman; Ann Schwend, Sturdy Girl, Helena; Austin Hart, Beartooth Mountain Guides and Basin Summer Ski Area, Red Lodge; Ben Litz, Headwaters Tree Care, Missoula; Bill Stoddard, Northfork Financial, 45 North Partners, and Homestake Partners, Bozeman; Brian McGeehan, Montana Angler, Bozeman; Chad Zeitner, Montucky Coldsnacks, Bozeman; Chandra Brown, Freeflow Institute, Missoula; Conor Darby, OnSite Energy, Bozeman; Dale Sexton, Timber Trails and Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop, Livingston; Dan Gigone, Sweetwater Fly Shop, Livingston; Darcy Cook, Granite Sports Medicine, Livingston; Dave Zinn, Wave Train Kayak Team, Bozeman; Denny Gignoux, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Co., West Glacier; Don Bennett, Freedom Bank, Columbia Falls; Erika Heflin, Tarkio Kayak Adventures, Missoula; Janie Greenwood, Rivers to Lakes Packraft Rental, Bozeman; Jim Klug, Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and Confluence Films, Bozeman; Josh Olsen, Montana Wilderness School, Bozeman; Marek Rosin, Adventure Whitewater, Red Lodge; Mark Vander Meer, Watershed Consulting LLC and Bad Goat Forest Products, Missoula; Mike Booth, Roman Theater, Beartooth Business Consulting, Red Lodge; Nathan Varley, Yellowstone Wolf Tracker, Bear Creek Council, Gardiner; Nick Silverman, Adaptive Hydrology, Missoula; Randy Hafer, High Plains Architects, Billings; Richard Parks, Parks Fly Shop, Gardiner; Robert Keith, Beartooth Capital, Bozeman; Terry Jones, Beartooth Recreation Trails Assn, Red Lodge; Todd Frank, The Trail Head, Missoula; Wes Hoecker, Two Pines Properties, Big Sky; and Dale Sexton, Dan Bailey’s Outdoor Company, Livingston.

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