For the past two decades, the bulk of my writing has tied directly to public land, conservation and wildlife. My latest book, Large Mammals of the Rocky Mountains (2018), details the biology and behavior of animals whose habitat lies primarily on public land and that play a critical role in Montana’s outdoor recreation industry, a massive economic driver that account for $7.1 billion and is the second largest sector of the state’s economy.
It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the value of public lands in our state and across the nation. These lands represent the source of most of the nation’s drinking water, and they’re home to our most treasured wildlife species. They provide ranchers with grass for their cattle and hold vast energy resources. They’re where Montanans go to hunt, hike, fish and relax. We need to not only conserve but also better fund our public lands to handle the substantially increasing numbers of visitors. You shouldn’t have to wait in a long line to use the bathroom in Yellowstone National Park. Campgrounds in our National Forests shouldn’t be closed during our hunting seasons. Law enforcement on BLM lands shouldn’t be spread so thinly that it’s ineffective. Public lands should remain public and available to all of us, with the appropriate funding and balanced management to prevent continued degradation of these important ecosystems.
Montana’s population is growing. People relocating to our state are coming to experience the outdoor lifestyle that’s so important to Montanans. To have an equally satisfying outing on public lands in five years, it is critical to open currently inaccessible parcels. This might include land exchanges, conservation easements or outright purchases of access easements from willing landowners. There’s also an urgent need to invest in the maintenance of current public lands infrastructure and expand it as well. This includes things like creating adequate parking at congested trailheads and expanding river access. Outdoor recreation is key to the economic health of many Montana communities and such investments will help maintain recreation-related businesses and support the thousands of jobs they provide.