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Boy Scouts Troop 2

The scouts of Troop 2 recite the Scout Oath and Scout Law before a recent meeting at Billings First Church in 2016.

Wednesday’s announcement about Boy Scouts of America opening its doors to younger girls brought a swift response from the Girl Scout organization that oversees Montana and Wyoming.

“We at Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming believe this is an unfortunate decision by the Boy Scouts of America,” said Kristi Osterlund, communications and marketing director for the organization. “We believe putting girls in a mixed-gender environment is a disservice to girls.”

Girl Scouts of the USA has been around for 105 years, Osterlund said, adding it provides “the best leadership experience for girls in the world."

Girl Scout Brooklyn Forrester

Girl Scout Brooklyn Forrester learns how to tie a fly to a line during a fly fishing day camp for girls at the Montana Audubon Center in 2015.

“We’ve got the expertise, we’ve got the data-backed time-tested programming that’s designed to meet the unique needs and interests of girls,” she said.

The Montana-Wyoming council has a membership of more than 8,700 girls, with more than 3,000 adult leaders and lifetime members. The council, one of three nationwide recognized for continued growth, has added members annually for the past seven years.

Osterlund said the council has been aware of the possible move on the part of Boy Scouts of America since early summer. BSA posted a 30-minute video about their goal to move in that direction “so it wasn’t a complete surprise,” she said.

Girl Scouts of the USA have programs to best help young girls and teens develop their potential, Osterlund said.

“We offer everything Boy Scouts of America does but we do it better because it is girl-focused, girl-led and girl-centered,” she said.

Girls haven’t been complete strangers to the Boy Scout organization. Since 1971, the Venturing program has been open to boys and girls ages 14 through 21, said Don Bean, scout executive at the Montana Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

“There aren’t merit badges — it’s more activity based,” said Bean, who only got confirmation Wednesday about the organization’s decision to open its ranks to younger girls.

The Montana Council has 7,068 youth registered in all of its programs. Of the 160 Venturers, Bean said, 72 are female.

Under the proposed plan, the youngest members, in Cub Scout dens, will be single-gender. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to stay separate or join together both boys and girls.

A program for older girls won’t start until 2019, the Associated Press reported.

Local Boy Scout units are owned by sponsoring organizations, not BSA, Bean said. Those organizations recruit leaders, provide locations for meetings and sometimes the finances, he said, although what they do has to fall within the parameters of the Boy Scout organization.

“It will be up to them whether they want to open up to girls or not,” Bean said.

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.