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The Outdoor Industry Association just released a new report proving that Montana’s outdoor economy is bigger than anyone thought. The report detailed outdoor recreation activities such as camping, fishing and hunting, trail and water sports, and their part in contributing $7.1 billion to the state’s economy. These activities support a love of the outdoors, but more importantly, they also support our way of life.

As an entrepreneur who has started several businesses in the state, I’ve witnessed firsthand how our public lands and outdoor amenities help business in Montana recruit and retain top talent. While all lawmakers should be expected to digest these new job numbers, there is one in particular who should study them very carefully: Sen. Steve Daines.

Daines is very good at sharing publicly his love for the great outdoors, whether it’s his affinity for fishing streams, hunting, or hiking the Beartooth Mountains. As a Montanan, he understands the inherent face value of our landscapes. Unfortunately, the talk has not translated into action. These mixed messages are on full display in the current debate over whether to protect local businesses from the threat of industrial gold mining on the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park, within gateway communities that depend on outdoor amenities and clean air and water to support their livelihoods.

Disappointed businesses

Daines’ comments and actions are at odds. He is confusing many local businesses and citizens who have asked for his help by saying one thing and effectively doing another. Daines recently told the Billings Gazette editorial board that he wants to protect the local economy and gateway of Yellowstone National Park. However, he disappointed many in the business community by stopping short of supporting the made-in-Montana solution that would accomplish this goal.

Instead he is delaying a solution by voicing his opinion that the current bill before Congress “won’t go anywhere”. He is suggesting a need to start over under the guise that what Montanans are asking for isn’t ‘balanced’ enough for him. With all due respect, Senator Daines, we find these claims hard to believe. The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act is well on its way, having already been introduced in Congress by Sen. Jon Tester and received a full Senate subcommittee hearing. The legislation is simple and straightforward and doesn’t impact private property rights. If it weren’t balanced, it wouldn’t have the support of the local community, 360 businesses, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the Park County commission.

The only thing holding this bill back from advancing right now is bipartisan cooperation. The only thing holding that up is Daines. If he would look past the politics and work together with Tester, there would be a much higher probability of delivering a win for our outdoor economy and the many jobs that depend on the protection of the public lands in question.

71,000 outdoor jobs

The right thing to do would be for Daines to listen to the hundreds of businesses and local leaders who have helped craft a homegrown plan for supporting jobs on the doorsteps of Yellowstone. The legislation does not need to be over-complicated or burdened down by any attempts to ‘balance’ it. If the voices of 360 local businesses are not enough, please read through the Outdoor Industry Report and pay particular attention to these numbers:

  • The recreation and outdoor-driven economy in Montana supports 71,000 direct jobs;
  • This economy yields $2.2 billion in wages and salaries;
  • The outdoor industry bolster’s our state’s well-being by providing $286 million in state and local taxes.

The outdoor industry is continuing to outgrow and outpace the economic impact of nearly every sector in the state. There is a perfect opportunity in front of our Montana delegation to demonstrate a commitment to protecting these outdoor jobs by working to protect the very thing that fuels this economy.

Senator Daines, please align your actions with your words. The numbers supporting the value of an outdoor recreation economy don’t lie. If public lands are such a significant driver of Montana’s economy, please explain why it is that you can’t help us protect our livelihoods?

Alex Philp, Ph.D., lives in Missoula and is the founder of Upstream Health, GCS Research, TerraEchos, Adelos, N-Site, and RMSC.