Guest opinion: Heritage Act would continue bipartisan conservation

2014-04-11T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Heritage Act would continue bipartisan conservationBy MAC MINARD The Billings Gazette
April 11, 2014 12:00 am  • 

For over 60 years, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association has served as an important voice for the outfitting industry and as a key partner in decisions that effect management of public land and wildlife resources. We are proud to represent over 200 member businesses across the state. Together, these businesses play a vital role in Montana’s tourism economy and help maintain the culture and traditions of ethical sportsmanship.

MOGA was formed to represent the interests of the outfitting industry and to bring an important business voice to bear on conservation and land management issues affecting Montana. Our members see the preservation and protection of critical landscapes and outdoor traditions as extremely important to all user groups. These landscapes and the wildlife habitat they provide are not only critical to our industry but to the fabric of who we are as Montanans. We recognize that these special places remain with us today because of the hard work and vision of the many people who have come before us.

50 years of wilderness

The Rocky Mountain Front is one such place. From the establishment of the Sun River Game Range in 1948 to the creation of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in 1964 and the Scapegoat Wilderness in 1972, folks along the Front have long demonstrated the forethought and fortitude required to keep this exceptional landscape intact. The job of maintaining such landscapes falls to all of us and is refreshingly bipartisan.

Montana’s congressional delegation, Democrat and Republican alike, have shown great leadership where the Rocky Mountain Front is concerned. Perhaps the best example is the successful withdrawal of federal mineral leases accomplished by former Sens. Conrad Burns and Max Baucus in 2006. On issues of wildlife conservation and land management, actions should transcend partisan politics. The Rocky Mountain Heritage Act is a good example of an act that is beneficial to Montanans regardless of their political persuasion.

However, as it stands right now, there is no permanent plan to safeguard the unique character of the Front.

Recently, MOGA’s board of directors voted unanimously to support the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Under the bill, recreational and agricultural uses that exist today, including grazing and outfitting, will continue to be enjoyed by future generations. The bill prioritizes noxious weed control and limits new road building while preserving motorized recreation and public access for hunting, biking, forest thinning, and grazing, and will be mindful of private property rights.

We support the proposed Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act as a common-sense approach that will help keep the Front the way it is for our kids and grandkids. The wild lands of the Front support some of the best deer, elk, and bighorn sheep hunting in the country, which in turn, supports our businesses and the local communities where we reside.

$167 million industry

In 2009, travel expenditures by nonresident visitors to Montana totaled more than $2.3 billion, creating thousands of jobs and contributing significantly to state and local taxes and take-home pay. Outfitting brings $167 million a year to Montana’s economy and creates thousands of full and part-time jobs.

MOGA has communicated our support for the Heritage Act to our congressional delegation with the hope of uniting them behind this made-in-Montana plan. We believe the time is right to build on the legacy of conservation along the Front by passing this bill for all Montanans.

Mac Minard of Montana City is executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.

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