Legislature Attacks Outdoor Economy

By Beacon Staff

During the state elections in late 2010, the mantra from candidates was clear: Nearly all touted the value of real-world business experience and reliance on common sense politics. Why then has the Legislature focused nearly 90 bills on attacking the thriving outdoor jobs economy and on reducing your access to hunting and fishing?

Nearly every one of these bills will reduce jobs in the $3.2 billion recreation sector of our economy. That economy supports a huge numbers of jobs in every Montana town. Hunting and fishing alone pump nearly $1 billion into our economy every year. In addition, the presence of high-quality recreation has been acknowledged time and again as an attractant for outside investors who seek Montanan’s high quality of life to create new businesses in Montana communities.

Aside from the very real benefit of jobs and income, hunting and fishing is part of our soul. For many, it is the reason we live here. But it was not always this way. The same ideas running rampant in Helena today almost erased our chance at the Montana we now love.

Less than a century ago there was no thriving outdoor economy in Montana and almost all game animals were gone. Montana was quickly headed toward the European model, where only the wealthy could afford to maintain wildlife or enjoy the outdoors. Montana relied on the booms and busts of commodities markets and the whims of industrial magnates who thought nothing of poisoning people or rivers while opening lobbying to have all public land given to them. We experienced firsthand the horrible impacts of unchecked development and we still pay millions every year to clean up these disasters.

Thankfully our forefathers recognized the foolishness of that approach. Republicans and Democrats worked together for generations to conserve resources and protect the environment. Rather than hinder growth, it became clear to them that strong environmental protections contributed to the long-term health of all industries and people. It also helped avoid expensive and ruinous disasters like the Berkeley Pit, Libby and Zortman-Landusky. Where there is healthy wildlife and watersheds, there are healthy farms and timber and there are Montanans enjoying the outdoors with their children and grandchildren.

It should not take a genius to understand the business logic of focusing on the outdoor economy and avoiding the sins of the past. This should be just the sort of common sense business opportunity our Legislature promised to embrace. Sadly, it appears we have few geniuses in Helena and almost no common sense.

Bills currently under consideration directly attack all aspects of our hard-won outdoor heritage. They halt scientific management of game animals, cut your access to hunting and fishing, and remove bedrock environmental protections for ranchers and wildlife. None of this has anything to do with common sense.

While there are dozens of incredibly foolish bills on the floor, here is a short representative list currently under consideration:

• HB 309 would radically reduce your stream access rights – Jeff Wellborn, R-Dillon

• HB 272 would prohibit FWP from using approved funds to improve hunting and fishing access – Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend

• SB 306 would reverse the twice-approved ban on cyanide in mining – Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell

• SB 13 would close many state parks and fishing access sites – John Brendan, R-Scobey

• SB 233 and SB 317 would prohibit you from commenting on huge industrial projects no matter how badly they effect fish and wildlife – Jim Keane, D-Butte, and Chas Vincent, R-Libby

• HB159 would prevent game wardens from enforcing federal laws – Cary Smith, R-Billings

It is obvious that our outdoor activities and livelihoods are under attack. Even if you are not employed in a restaurant, hotel, fly shop, sporting goods store or in one of the hundreds of other job-creating businesses that rely on our environment, I hope you’ll agree that the Legislature’s attack on our heritage is egregious. To most Montanans, our outdoor way of life is also important in ways that can’t be measured by dollars. No matter whether it’s important to your pocket book or your soul, this Legislature is hitting you where it hurts.

Ryan Busse, of Kalispell, is the board chair for the Montana Conservation Voters