All of Montana is being impacted by the federal shutdown. It’s particularly acute in my home of Livingston where our economic vibrancy is directly connected to Yellowstone National Park and our surrounding public lands. Many of my friends and neighbors employed by the National Park Service and Forest Service are facing difficult financial decisions as the government shutdown is a month old now and the number of missed paychecks climbs.
The impacts are also being felt by those of us who are not missing paychecks. Newspapers across Montana are bringing to light the slow but steady erosion of government services as federal funding for crucial programs has seized up. Montanans are experiencing uncertainty around their ability to access nutrition programs like SNAP, we are seeing delays in efforts to clean up Superfund sites, and we are currently unable to recruit and prepare firefighters for the upcoming wildfire season.
More directly, federal employees who are frequent customers at my small retail store, Timber Trails, have curtailed their discretionary spending. Visitors to Yellowstone, who ordinarily rent and buy gear from us, are cancelling trips to the Park. These declines in sales are hard to swallow during any season, but given the challenges always presented in midwinter, they are particularly onerous right now.
Here in Park County, our ability to keep Yellowstone National Park clean, accessible, and safe for the public is now severely handicapped. We are relying on the goodwill of volunteers and local businesses who rely on winter visitation to keep crucial services limping along. While there are many reasons we need to end the shutdown immediately, there is one more that nobody has yet pointed out.
The shutdown has ground to a halt the ability of our representatives to govern back in Washington, D.C.. Important legislative priorities that impact Montanans have taken the back seat while the shutdown drama has unfolded. The business and landowner community in southwest Montana is worried that one crucial legislative priority is being delayed that would create more certainty for hundreds of businesses and landowners near Yellowstone National Park.
For the last few years, our business community has been working with our federal delegation to to protect our jobs and public lands near the border of Yellowstone National Park and prevent irresponsible mining companies from gaining a foothold on our public lands. We were nearly successful at passing legislation last year and were promised that Congress would prioritize the same legislation at the beginning of 2019. That hasn’t happened yet.
Our Montana delegation is doing their best in the midst of this turmoil and I’m thankful for that. True to their word, all three members of our delegation reintroduced or sponsored the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act in the past few weeks.
Currently, the legislation has been inserted into a larger public land package that also includes reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The full package is ready to be passed and awaiting a full vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, we have been asked to sit tight. Our communities’ efforts are sitting on the shelf gathering dust until the gears of government can get back into motion.
The longer this shutdown drags on, the more uncertainty Montanans face. We need to bring this to an end. Until this shutdown is over, our federal workers, our social services, and our efforts to protect our lands and jobs will all continue to be held hostage.