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Daines Edith Peak

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, inspects former Stimson Lumber Co. land recently added to the Lolo National Forest with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation CEO Kyle Weaver in October 2018. Cooperation between RMEF, the Lolo Forest and Stimson allowed the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to pay for the land acquisition north of Frenchtown below Edith Peak, seen in the background.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Knowing what's right doesn't mean much unless you do what's right.”

It seems that Congress could do well to remind themselves of this message from one of our nation’s conservation heroes. While Congress finally reached a temporary solution to the government shutdown, it was not without a detriment to communities, our public lands and related jobs. If Congress touts the value of our outdoors and our growing recreation industry, it doesn’t mean much if they continually turn their back on our outdoor assets, instead prioritizing partisan agendas. Actions are much louder than words. And action in this case took 35 days.

Montana’s gateway communities made us proud when they volunteered to clean toilets and pick up trash overflowing in Yellowstone National Park thanks to the government shutdown. While they were glad to pitch in, cleaning up the government’s mess is not a sustainable path toward economic growth. The cost of picking up the pieces after a shutdown will now be the burden of communities across the country, a result of Congress’ inability to work towards a wise solution to put the government back to work. From a business perspective, this is nothing short of fiscally irresponsible. The stalemate we witnessed in Washington is yet another symptom of a Congress that is willing to hold our public lands, our businesses and our jobs hostage for political theater.

Business for Montana’s Outdoors represents over 200 members from dozens of industries that are critical pieces of Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the 71,000 related jobs. As members, we are frustrated by a Congress that appears totally unconcerned by how their action — or lack of action — directly impacts our businesses.

We venture to say that last year’s Congress was one of the worst for outdoor recreation in America’s history. Case in point: allowing the Land and Water Conservation Fund — widely billed as our nation’s most effective, bipartisan conservation tool — to expire in October. Every day that LWCF is not authorized, $2.4 million for outdoor recreation and conservation gains is lost.

Largely considered the backbone of America's public lands policy, LWCF has resulted in $580 million in investments in Montana alone, from the Rocky Mountain Front to Glacier and Yellowstone, and the hundreds of fishing access sites, community parks and trails in between. Without a doubt, LWCF is one of the vital pillars of our outdoor recreation economy. While Congress may acknowledge that our outdoor recreation economy accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million American jobs, their inability to work together to reauthorize and fully fund LWCF speaks volumes.

Whether it’s LWCF or political games such as the government shutdown, the fact is U.S. Sen. Steve Daines has been at the helm of the Senate majority and has a direct line to Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. This gives him a unique opportunity to advocate for our gateway communities and our outdoor recreation industry, who will bear the burden of this shutdown for months.

Daines extolls the values of our public lands and we believe he knows the right thing for Congress to do. We encourage him to keep working, not holding our public lands and our jobs hostage. Daines represents Montanans, and must also know how fiscally irresponsible it was to hold jobs hostage for the span of more than a month. We urge him to consider Teddy Roosevelt’s reminder as he reflects upon his duty to advocate for Montana.

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This opinion is signed by Business for Montana's Outdoors members Carla Fisher of Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls and Shannon Hughes of Spur Studios in Bozeman.

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