Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Keeping Public Lands Open Act Works for Montana

The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument & The C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge are routinely called Valhalla  for hunters. 380 inch bull elk bugle in September; 200 inch bighorn sheep batter each other for dominance as the crack of horns smashing into each other rings through the coulees. Hunters plan and wait in hopes of drawing one of the most coveted tags in the world – a bighorn sheep tag in the Breaks.
Breaks Country produces some of Montana’s biggest & baddest critters and is an economic driver for the region, keeping small businesses running and pumping millions of dollars into local economies. But that was all put in jeopardy when the government shut down last fall. In fact, Montana lost 

Hunters felt the bottom drop in their stomachs. How could the ridiculous fights of politicians in the East affect hunting plans for us in the west? Federal Lands were shutdown along with the rest of the Government. That shutdown affected camping on U.S. Forest Service Land, BLM land and most importantly: It shut down the Missouri River Breaks Monument and C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.  We had dozens of questions posted to our website and social media outlets regarding what's open, what's not and how the shutdown would affect hunters looking to chase their favorite fare on public lands. It was a mess. One that could have been avoided if there were any clear direction on how a shutdown could affect public lands. 

Today, Senator John Walsh provided that direction and introduced the “Keeping Public Lands Open Act.” The concept is simple: Ensure that funding remains in place even in light of another shutdown so people can still access their public lands.

Here’s what the bill does:

Enable the following to remain open in case of another Government shutdown:
 National Parks
 National Wildlife Refuges and facilities
 National Forests and facilities
 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and facilities
 Land and Water Conservation Fund projects, including conservation easements
 North American Wetlands Conservation Fund projects
 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation projects
 Migratory Bird Conservation Fund projects, including Duck Stamp-funded projects
 Private land conservation programs like Partners for Fish and Wildlife

What this bill means for Montana:
 For gateway communities and the outdoor industry: this keeps the national parks open.

 For sportsmen and outfitters: this keeps the campgrounds and the backcountry open in
national forests, BLM land, and national wildlife refuges for hunters, anglers, and other
sportsmen and recreationists.

 For landowners, conservationists, and sportsmen: this would keep funding flowing for conservation easements and other conservation projects that keep working lands working,
improve fish and wildlife habitat, and improve access for sportsmen.

Montana’s outdoor industry posted $5.8 billion in economic activity in 2012. Outdoor recreation is one of Montana’s largest industries, and it dwarfs oil & gas development. Those numbers come from the Outdoor Industry Association. Montana’s economic diversity matters not only to the 64,000 people employed by the outdoor industry but to everybody who spends a week in elk camp, or who savors the early pheasant hunt with college buddies. Spring Turkey hunters flock to the Breaks. Spring Bear hunters swarm western Montana looking for a smoker boar.

Our public lands should never be a political football. With this bill, Senator Walsh has firmly embraced the ideal that public lands should remain open to the public who owns them. Well done, Senator Walsh. This bill is greatly appreciated and most definitely needed. 

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