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Opinion: The Montana Legislature should remember who they work for
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Opinion: The Montana Legislature should remember who they work for

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The 67th Montana Legislature is turning its back on Montana voters and the public lands we rely on.

From Billings to Butte, Great Divide to Glendive, Helena to Havre, Montanans of all stripes find pleasure, beauty and much of their protein outside. In Montana, we know that our public lands can’t just serve as an empty slogan for politicians to lean on during campaign season. Public lands shape our way of life, our dinner plates, our economic health and the state we pass down to our children.

Back in November, Montanans overwhelmingly supported Ballot Initiative 190, which legalized recreational marijuana and allocated 49% of the generated tax revenue to our public lands. The lion’s share of that would boost Habitat Montana, a popular conservation tool used to maintain our outdoor infrastructure, increase access, acquire new public lands, and support Montana farmers and ranchers.

Now, however, out-of-touch lawmakers are squandering an extraordinary opportunity to provide critical funding for our great outdoors and the communities that depend on them. All of their bills to rewrite I-190 directly reject the will of the voters, stripping nearly $20 million of annual funding from conservation and outdoor recreation. Over time, that kind of funding is a game changer.

The investment of recreational marijuana revenue to benefit our public lands and outdoor infrastructure is not only what Montana voters want but what this state needs to remain the last best place.

Montana’s outdoor recreation economy employs nearly 71,000 people — generating $7.1 billion annually. Demand for and utilization of public land resources are growing, and rapidly. To support this expanding industry, filled with good-paying jobs and opportunities for Montana workers, our state will need to make some critical investments. We can only do that with proper funding for our public lands.

The passage of I-190 last year marked a historic turning point for our state, promising a new source of substantial, sustained revenue and improving our public lands for generations to come. The Montana Legislature has the opportunity to fund our future and take care of the unmet needs of landowners, hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts.

With the future of Montana on the line, the time to get loud is now. Please join Montana Conservation Voters in this fight. Go to mtvoters.org to sign our petition and share our new video with your family and friends. The Legislature once again needs reminding that they work for us — and we are united in demanding the investment we voted for last November.

Jock Conyngham, of Evaro, is the board chair of Montana Conservation Voters. (mtvoters.org).

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