Congress: Stand up for Public Lands and Montana Jobs
The Great American Outdoors Act would fund LWCF and support Montana's economic recovery
Update, June 17
Today, the U.S. Senate resoundingly passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would secure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The final vote tally was 73-25. Both of Montana's senators voted in favor of the act.
Now, the bill moves to the House, where its passage is not guaranteed. Rep. Greg Gianforte has stated that he will support the bill, and we need to keep making it clear to him that Montanans want to see him take a leadership role in helping GAOA become law. This is a crucial bill for our public lands, our jobs and businesses, and the outdoor way of life that Montanans have depended on for generations, and our congressmen need to lead the charge towards full and dedicated funding for LWCF. A House vote is expected in the second half of July.
Back in early March, a group of Montanans rallied at the Cherry River Fishing Access Site in Bozeman to show their support for fully and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
Things have changed a lot since that day. We’ve learned the vocabulary of a pandemic, figured out how to replace in-person communication with virtual, and become accustomed to working from home and limiting our trips to the grocery store. Our communities have felt the effects of Covid-19, too, from restaurants and breweries facing dramatically limited operations to stores and hotels seeing the stream of visitors slow to a trickle.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of our public lands. During these difficult times, they have offered us joy, connection, and a little bit of respite from our daily challenges.
Now, as Montana begins taking the first steps on the long road back towards normalcy, it’s clear that our public lands have an additional role to play: helping our communities get back on solid economic ground.
Montanans agree that public lands are a key element of Montana’s economy. The University of Montana’s 2020 Public Lands Survey found that 89% of Montanans believe that public lands are helpful to our economy, and a whopping 98% identified outdoor recreation businesses and jobs as being important parts of Montana’s economy.
Now, when businesses and communities across the state are doing their best to get back on their feet, we need to support the public lands that are the foundation of our outdoor recreation economy. It’s time for Congress to stand with Montanans pass the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), legislation that would, among much else, secure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Senators Tester and Daines have both been supporters of the Act, but we need to continue to show them that Montanans strongly support it. Representative Gianforte, meanwhile, has yet to support legislation that would fully and permanently fund LWCF.
It’s important that we make it clear that Montanans support the Great American Outdoors Act and full, permanent funding for LWCF. Please take a few minutes to call our congressmen today and tell them why passing GAOA is so important to you and to Montana’s economy.
LWCF is a critical piece in Montana’s public lands puzzle. Over the last 50 years, it has contributed over $600 million to protect and develop public land resources like state parks, fishing access sites, trail systems, and so much more. These resources are essential to the high quality of life that we enjoy in Montana, and they also attract residents and visitors alike to our state, connecting people to our forests, mountains, rivers, and prairies. Public land users make critical contributions to Montana’s economy by hiring guides and outfitters, renting gear, staying in hotels, buying supplies, and patronizing restaurants and breweries, among much else.
Need proof? Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Montana’s outdoor recreation economy supported 71,000 jobs and generated $7.1 billion for Montana communities. These are jobs and dollars that will be critical in helping Montana rebound from the economic difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
Of course, we need to be responsible about how we use our public land resources. While they offer us invaluable physical and mental health benefits, happiness, and adventure, the health and wellness of our families, friends, and communities comes first, and it should remain so even as we enjoy the reopening of state and national parks, campgrounds, and local outdoor areas. As large numbers of people flock to our public lands and increase pressure on our existing resources, it will only highlight the need to protect and maintain these places, and establish new opportunities to experience public lands, so that we all may safely enjoy their many benefits, now and well into the future.
Congress can take a massive step toward securing the future of our public lands and supporting Montana’s economic recovery by passing the Great American Outdoors Act and fully and permanently funding LWCF. I hope you’ll join me by calling our congressmen today to act in the interests of all Montanans.