I’m neither a hunter nor an angler. But public lands are important to the success of my family’s small business, a family-owned and -operated Blackfoot Valley guest ranch started by my great-grandparents almost a century ago. The importance isn’t merely in the transactional sense of grazing leases and recreation permits, but is felt on a deeper level, more difficult to articulate.

William Bruce Cameron put it well: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” This is just one reason why I’m counting on our elected officials this legislative session to defend our public lands and ensure these lands are passed onto the next generation.

My grandfather, O.W. “Bill” Potter (1917-2013), was one of the early advocates of Block Management, walk-in hunting. He wasn’t known for his charitable views towards the general public but he did believe that getting people out on the landscape would translate into them wanting to care for it. Over the course of his 95 years, he was able to see our guests be instrumental in the restoration of the Blackfoot River and the conservation of industrial timber lands. The last 20 years of his life he witnessed increases in bull trout, mountain lion, wolf and grizzly bear numbers in addition to healthy elk and deer populations. He saw the creation of resilient landscapes that could support loggers, ranchers and recreationists.

Public lands not only serve as the foundation for Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy, but they allow for any person regardless of income to connect with nature. Perhaps surprisingly, this experience with nature allows us to better connect with being human in a way that can’t be found on a manicured soccer field.

For a species hard-wired to connect, living in a world where connection is increasingly difficult, it isn’t a stretch to realize Montana’s quality public lands are an essential tool for our health and survival and must be protected.

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Juanita Vero of Greenough is a partner in E Bar L Ranch and chair of Montana Conservation Voters. 

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