It’s easy to take for granted what lies in our backyard, year after year. The Yellowstone River has been a part of my life for 25 years now. I’ve fished it, swam in it, hunted and camped along the banks, and have been blessed to experience its beauty with friends and family.
I’m the president and CEO of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. Our members across the country depend on us to be the voice that keeps the fly-fishing industry growing sustainably. While we promote the purchase of fly-fishing gear and the work of our member retailers and guides, we know that without clean rivers for trout, salmon, and steelhead, our industry is dead in the water. We work closely with local groups – our neighbors – who protect, enhance and restore fishing waters. I represent the industry nationally, but I live here in Montana where our blue ribbon trout streams remind us of our good fortune.
That’s why I support the recent timeout on gold mining on public lands in the Paradise Valley. The Yellowstone River and its blue ribbon trout fishery cannot be jeopardized by ill-planned mining developments nearby. Last summer’s devastating whitefish die-off was a painful reminder that this river system is fragile. We must keep the Yellowstone River clean and healthy, producing bugs and trout for generations to come.
Protecting the Yellowstone also protects the backbone of a thriving fishing economy, both in Park County and in Montana as a whole. A whopping 40 percent of all people who came to Montana in 2016 to fish did so in Park County (page 62 in the latest issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine). Fishing in Park County generates $70 million each year. Outdoor recreation in Montana as a whole is a $5.8 billion industry. The whitefish die-off last year prompted Montana to close the Yellowstone for several weeks, costing Park County an estimated $524,000.
In the spirit of AFFTA supporting local groups that protect local waters, I also support the mining timeout because local business leaders asked for it. The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition is made up of 300 regional business owners who oppose these risky developments. Fishing and angling companies account for 25 of those businesses, and those at Simms Fishing Products says it’s a no-brainer when it comes to protecting the Yellowstone River.
All 300 business owners are united with the same message: Protect our jobs from the devastation any mining accident or pollution could bring to the Paradise Valley and its thriving economy. This group isn’t red or blue; it’s purple bipartisan. I don’t have to tell you how rare this is today. Lefty enviros and staunch local Republicans are nodding in agreement on this issue, as are Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) and Sen. Jon Tester (D). With Rep. Zinke poised to become our next secretary of the Interior, locals in Paradise Valley feel confident their voices will continue to be heard in Washington, D.C..
Now we need to keep this momentum going. Here’s what you can do: Go to dontmineyellowstone.com and with two clicks, send a comment to the Forest Service. They need to hear from you. They want to know that you support this, and they want to hear why. Tell them they’re doing the right thing.
Let’s protect the Yellowstone River and the fly-fishing industry, as well as the 300 area businesses that want to protect jobs from this terrible idea to mine next to Yellowstone. Join me in speaking up for this mining pause supported by Montanans of all political stripes. Tell the Forest Service today: Yellowstone is more valuable than gold.