OPINION: Montana’s public lands are worth celebrating and defending

By Ryan Busse, Maggie Carr, Shane Doyle and Mary Hollow - January 8, 2018 - Originally published in the Billings Gazette.

We invite you to join us at noon on Friday in the Capitol Rotunda in Helena for the Rally for Public Lands.

Montanans from across our great state will come together at the rally to celebrate our public lands and the outdoor way of life those lands make possible. Public lands unify Montanans by allowing us to live the outdoor lives we love. They allow people of all stripes to share common experiences, and remind us that our many similarities are more important than our few differences.

There are nearly 30 million acres of national public lands in Montana, and they belong equally to all Americans, regardless of wealth or status. Public lands don’t provide preference to the well-connected. They’re not reserved for the use of a select, wealthy few. Our public lands are open to us whether we hunt, hike, camp, fish, ski, snowmobile, mountain bike, ride horses or ride off-highway vehichles, and they provide us with a common set of experiences that bring us together as friends, families and neighbors.

Our public lands are where we make our best memories and create traditions that we pass down for generations. Think about that special camping spot shaded by quaking aspens that your grandmother shared with you as a child, or the hole where your dad taught you the secrets of casting for rainbow trout. The high-country hunting ground that you visit every November with your buddies, the backwoods snowmobile trail where you taught your daughter to ride, or the flower-filled meadow you pack into every summer — without our public lands, we wouldn’t have the chance to make the memories that sustain us for a lifetime.

We also depend on our public lands for clean water and wildlife habitat. Runoff from alpine snowfields cascades down mountainsides in the spring, filling our rivers and reservoirs, providing drinking water to our communities and keeping Montana’s legendary blue-ribbon trout streams gin-clear and full of trout. These same ecosystems are, and have been for millennia, home to elk, bears, mountain goats, wolves, moose, bison, wolverines, and other species of mammals and birds too numerous to name.

By ensuring the future of Montana’s public lands, we can ensure the protection of sites of immense historical and cultural significance to Native Americans. The Badger-Two Medicine, between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, is home to the creation story of the Blackfeet Nation. Ancestral Crow lands, many of them considered sacred, cover large swaths of eastern and central Montana, including the Pryor, Crazy, Beartooth, and Absaroka Mountains.

Increasingly, businesses and skilled workers are being drawn to Montana by the quality of life that our public lands provide. They are the foundation of our state’s $7.1 billion outdoor economy, directly providing 71,000 jobs to Montana communities and allowing small businesses to flourish, stimulating local economies across the state.

According to a survey of 200 businesses from every county in Montana conducted by Business for Montana’s Outdoors, 70 percent of business owners say that the “Montana outdoor lifestyle” was a factor in deciding to locate or expand their business in Montana.

We’re proud to speak at the Rally for Public Lands because we believe without reservation that our public lands are vital to the future of our state and that we cannot allow the federal government to transfer ownership of those lands or enable special interests to seize and exploit them.

We invite you to join us.

About Ryan Busse

Conservation Warrior. Part time cocktail drinker

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