In a bold move that would make Teddy Roosevelt proud, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently signed a 20-year ban on gold mining on federal lands just outside of Yellowstone National Park. This decision not only reflects our shifting Western values, but also the importance of wildlife and resource preservation to Montana’s new economy. But why stop at 20 years? We now have the rare opportunity to pass a bipartisan bill to extend the protection of Yellowstone forever.
While hard-rock mining is critical to our economy and our daily lives, there are places to mine and places not to mine. I am the chairman of Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman, where our employees work to bring high-quality fishing gear to anglers around the world. Since 1993, our employment base has grown significantly every year and we have achieved an annual compounded growth rate of over 15 percent. Like all outdoor recreation businesses in Montana, we love where we live. The Yellowstone River, which is only half an hour from Simms’ headquarters, is our home water and binds our team together.
Our company stepped up and got involved when we heard that two out-of-country gold mining companies could threaten a river that both Simms and many Montana companies depend on. In 2016, Simms joined more than 420 businesses in the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition to fight these mines. We started by asking the U.S. Forest Service, both of our senators, and our congressman at the time, Ryan Zinke, to limit mines near Yellowstone which would risk our livelihoods.
Our pro-jobs stance would have been difficult even 20 years ago when the last gold mining operation threatened Yellowstone Park. The Old West ethos on which Montana was founded paints a picture of pioneer miners, optimistically panning for riches in our rocky streams. Early fortunes were made, and we still see the remnant tailings and wastewater around our state. After all, Montana’s motto is “oro y plata” — Spanish for “gold and silver.”
This Old West mentality is old news. Over the past 20 years, Montanans have developed a vibrant economy based on the wild lands and healthy rivers that support abundant fish, wildlife and outstanding scenery. Consumer spending on outdoor recreation and products generated $7.1 billion in Montana in 2017. More than 70,000 in-state jobs were generated by outdoor recreation. Of that, approximately 6,000 jobs were directly tied to sport fishing alone, generating at least $1.5 billion in taxable wages and growing. We simply cannot risk losing this to an unsustainable mine near the headwaters of the Yellowstone.
It is our pro-jobs, bipartisan coalition that convinced the Trump administration to sign a 20-year mining withdrawal on federal lands near Yellowstone. We can now encourage Congress to make Secretary Zinke’s ban permanent. The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act — first introduced by Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and followed in the House by Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, a Republican — would restrict mining on federal lands near Yellowstone forever. This bill is now ready for final mark-up and passage. And endorsements in support of permanent protection continue, most recently by the 1,300-member Outdoor Industry Association.
Please join us. We urge you to contact your senators and representatives today to help protect Yellowstone National Park and the river that bears its name. Please tell them Yellowstone is more valuable than gold.