The 27 million acres of public lands in Montana lend lifestyle and amenity advantages to communities and small businesses, driving entrepreneurs and outdoorsmen alike. Around 64,000 jobs and countless small, community-oriented businesses thrive thanks to our federally managed public lands, creating one of Montana’s most recession-proof economic drivers.
Out-of-state special interests are promoting an agenda that would eliminate federal ownership of public lands. Proponents claim this will spur short-term economic development while eliminating protections that ensure plentiful wildlife and access. Some Montanans are getting swept up in the rhetoric, not realizing the very real and negative consequences this would have on all who enjoy the benefits of our vast public lands.
The effort to “take the public out of public lands” fails to examine the real details of what state ownership of our public lands would mean. In fact, proponents ignore significant costs associated with land management. For small businesses that would have to absorb the tax burden of state management, these details are crucial. This plan underscores previous agendas that have been advanced by the same special interests to sell our public lands to the highest bidder. This course would severely weaken Montana’s $5.8 billion outdoor economy that provides 64,000 jobs.
If Montana is interested in assuming control of our public lands, specific questions must be answered before we consider growing state government so exponentially.
What does this land grab mean for hundreds of thousands of Montanans and millions of visitors who use our public lands for recreation? What does this mean for the management of issues such as firefighting and habitat protection? Equally important, what does this mean for the high-tech industry that utilizes Montana’s federal public lands as a vital advantage in recruiting employees and high-paying positions to their companies? And what guarantee do we have that this won’t mean selling off federal public lands, shutting out Montanans and visitors alike?
A recent poll conducted for Business for Montana’s Outdoors found that more than 70 percent of businesses in Montana cite public lands as a major factor in their decision to expand or start a business in Montana. Certainly, our federal public lands are an advantageous tool for young, energetic, highly skilled people who value a high quality of life as much as high paying jobs.
Public land management is difficult. But Montanans have a long tradition of working collaboratively to address issues of litigation and poorly planned development where our public lands are concerned. Recent efforts have resulted in made-in-Montana proposals like the North Fork Protection Act, the Rocky Mountain Front and Heritage Act and the recent Farm Bill provision to expedite logging on 5.1 million acres of National Forest land.
While this latest push against federal land management is a year in the making, there has been little to no outreach to the Montana business community or to the outdoor industry to invite discussion into this short-sighted effort.
Public lands set the West apart from the rest of the nation. Most of us live and work in Montana because of our federal public lands. They afford an economic benefit and a way of life that give us an advantage in creating jobs and attracting talent to our communities. Pushing for the elimination of federal public lands is not in the best interest of Montana.