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Politics doesn't always give us many good choices, and an election year can bring out a lot of cynical, divisive fights. But this election season, Montanans from all walks of life are coming together say yes for clean water, fish and wildlife and our communities by voting for I-186.

Clean water matters to all Montanans. It is especially important to hunters and anglers. For fish and wildlife, there is no more critical component to a healthy ecosystem than clean water. The Treasure State's unmatched hunting and fishing opportunity depends on clean rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands.

I-186 is a transparent and straightforward proposal to improve Montana's ability to protect our waterways from future pollution. The initiative gives the state of Montana the ability to require hard-rock mining companies seeking new permits to show up front that they will not leave Montanans with a permanent mess. I-186 doesn't stop any currently operating mines — and it doesn't stop future mining by responsible companies that have a plan to clean up after their operations.

Montanans are all too familiar with the consequences of unregulated, poorly managed mining. Permanent pollution such as acid mine drainage, mercury, arsenic and lead have polluted our waterways far too often in the past as companies have declared bankruptcy, forfeited their bonds and left Montanans to deal with the consequences.

These consequences impact Montanans. Ask any downstream neighbor what it’s like to not be able to trust your water source. Ask the communities who suffer the stigma of polluted water how hard it is to change public perception. Ask the hunters and anglers who have seen first hand the impacts of pollution on fish and wildlife. Some of our rivers and wetlands have been empty of fish and wildlife for decades after irresponsible mining. Entire generations of Montanans have missed out on fishing and hunting opportunities.

I-186 is about finding a way to protect clean water alongside responsible mining. The new permit requirements would not apply to operating mines or impact existing hard-rock mining jobs or tax revenue. I-186 simply holds responsible mining companies to their word to keep our water clean by instituting accountability up front. It just asks them to show us that they can respect our state and its resources before they put shovel to ground.

Out-of-state special interests that don't want to be required to clean up their mines are spreading a lot of rhetoric and misinformation about I-186. They want us to think that we can't protect Montana's clean water and good Montana jobs. It doesn't have to be like that.

We don't get many easy choices in politics. But charting a positive path forward is within our reach. Use your vote wisely this November. Vote to protect our fish, wildlife, and clean water by supporting I-186.

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Bill Geer is president of the Montana Wildlife Federation

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