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Support for public lands in Montana crosses partisan lines. Most favor keeping public lands public, but they also say they believe in a balance among the competing interests of energy development, ranching and recreation.

We are residents of Montana, business owners, investors in small companies/entrepreneurs and champions of economic growth. We are members of the Conservation for Economic Growth Coalition and Business for Montana’s Outdoors. These are national and state-level groups of investors and entrepreneurs who understand that public access to pristine public lands attracts entrepreneurs to Montana.

Further, we understand that these untrammeled public lands help employers here and across the West recruit and retain the talented, driven people we need to grow our companies and our economy. We believe that these public lands provide our companies and economies with a competitive advantage in the global economic marketplace.

We are concerned over the misguided — and seemingly coordinated — effort currently being undertaken by state and federal decision makers to dramatically alter our public lands, threatening the businesses and communities that rely on them.

While the president misuses his authority to reduce some of our most cherished monuments, Republican members in the House of Representatives are close to passing the SECURE American Energy Act. This bill is being labeled by its authors as a measure “to promote domestic energy development on both America’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and its vast onshore federal acreage.

If enacted, the bill would erode the benefits of our pristine landscapes and hurt our local economies. The bill would create a framework for transferring oversight and governance of these public lands — our lands — to states who could then unilaterally decide whether to allow oil and gas exploration and other extraction practices on those lands.

The costs associated with managing these areas is so substantial that bearing the financial burden of management of these lands will likely force states like ours to open them to private holding agendas, including short-sighted and short-lived extraction, simply to cover those costs. This is not promoting strong, long-lived, local economic growth; it is hurting it.

This potential change in the governance of our national public lands not only undermines the recreational opportunities that make our state so special, but it also threatens our small businesses, and sends a damaging message to companies thinking of relocating to Montana, or expanding their business here.

In research sponsored by Business for Montana’s Outdoors ("Montana’s Economy, Public Lands and Competitive Advantage"), data shows that areas that protect their federal public lands are leaders in job growth, personal income and per capita income. Montana is one of these places.

In further research this year in the seven western states along the Continental Divide (see Colorado College’s Conservation in the West report), 68 percent of those polled wanted the Trump administration to protect clean water, air quality, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, compared to 22 percent who wanted to emphasize domestic energy development. So, not only is this bad economic policy, but the people affected by it don’t want it.

Congress’s consideration of legislation that would undermine a critical driver of our state’s economy is a significant mistake. The interest in gaining points with the oil and gas industry while threatening communities and livelihoods that depend on our outdoors is a mistake we cannot afford to make. We urge members from both parties to speak out against this misguided legislation and preserve our public lands, including national monuments, for generations to enjoy and economically benefit from.

Robert Keith serves as the co-founder, managing principal and principal of Beartooth Capital Partners LLC based in Montana. Will Price is the founder of Next Frontier Capital, a venture capital investment company. 

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