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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Mar 06 2017

A Love Letter to Wild Places

A college student testifies against resolution stripping protection from some of Montana’s most beloved places, but is cut off

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Editor’s note: MWA intern Andrea Creel wrote the following as testimony she wanted to give at a Montana legislative committee hearing for HJ9, a joint resolution calling on Congress to release wilderness study areas across the state, which would strip protection from nearly a million acres of wild places in Montana.

At the House Natural Resources Committee hearing, testimony was limited to 30 minutes per side, despite the fact that there were more than 70 people attending in opposition and fewer than 10 in support. As time ran out, the committee chairwoman, Rep. Theresa Manzella, cut Creel off mid-sentence.

Here’s Creel's testimony in full. Hopefully, Manzella will now take the time to consider Creel's thoughtful testimony.

My name is Andrea Creel. I’m 21 years-old and I’m from Bozeman. Growing up in Montana, I’ve learned both through experience and by being told outright that my voice doesn’t carry much weight. I’d like to thank the Madam Chair and the committee for taking some time to listen to me today.

Montana’s outdoors has given me everything I love. Whether that’s the relationship with my mother and father, the bond with my sister, the experiences with friends or the passion for my future career, it all circles back to the lands here. All of my true loves for life have been born and have grown, thrived, and been challenged along ridge lines or under the silence of the stars.

By the time I was in seventh grade, when my family decided to hike, backpack, horseback ride, and raft every inch between my back door and Yellowstone National Park, my soul had already begun to tangle itself up in Montana’s wild places. The vast majority of this trip bobbed and weaved through the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area. My soul had already tied knots to this state, but this trip is when I shackled my heart to Montana with steel chains.

I could write a love letter to Montana’s public lands that would last 21 years. However, like I said earlier, my voice is quiet, and love letters are even quieter. Still, I hope you can see the beauty is something that has stood still in a world where everything seems to be changing.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to see the value in beauty and the value in love. It’s hard to see the value in stillness and the value in change. And we could spend years debating the value of one recreation over another because we already have.

That all being said, there’s another voice in this conversation that I would like to speak to. It often talks behind closed doors or over private phone calls. And that voice is money.

Money talks. Loudly. Louder than my voice, louder than a love story, even louder than an engine.

So let’s talk about money. If HJ9 were to pass, it would strip protection from almost a million acres of Montana’s wildest and most beloved places. That would open this land up to development, land that I have fallen in love with.

But we’re no longer talking about the utility I find in beauty. Instead, we’re talking about the economics. Yes, development can be good for the state’s economy. But I think that we should acknowledge the economic benefits that these lands already bring to the state of Montana as Wilderness Study Areas before we risk opening them up to development.

One such economic benefit is jobs. 64,000 jobs. Before opening these areas to the possibility of development, we need to look into the possibility of that development threatening thousands of Montanan’s livelihoods.

“Billions of dollars in our economy.” That’s how Jon Tester described public lands only hours before this committee hearing. Public lands create a six-billion-dollar industry, and it’s vital to understand how stripping almost a million acres of their WSA status will affect our state’s economy.

Four hundred-and-three million dollars in tax revenue. How will our budget be affected if what this resolution is asking for were to happen?

And finally, 11 million tourist visits per year. For every one Montanan, 11 tourists visit annually. There’s a large section of our economy that not only survives on tourism but also thrives on it. And I think we all know that any sort of development in these areas won’t be a boost for tourism in a state that is known for its beauty.

So yes, my voice is quiet, and my love story is even quieter. But I hope you can see that money speaks for itself.

- Andrea Creel, MWA intern