Public lands package will benefit all Montanans

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As public land owners, we’re ecstatic and proud to see all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation step forward in strong support of the Natural Resources Management Act, S. 47, which last month cleared both the U.S. House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte all demonstrated significant leadership and a clear appreciation for the wealth of outdoor opportunities that we enjoy as Montanans.

This powerful package of conservation and access bills will benefit Montanans across the board. It includes language permanently reauthorizing the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and reauthorizing for three years the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. LWCF has provided nearly $400 million in funding to Montana since its inception more than 50 years ago, funding nearly 70 percent of the state’s fishing access sites. This renowned source of conservation funding is integral to the Montana outdoor lifestyle, and it doesn’t cost our citizens one red cent; LWCF funds are derived from federal offshore oil and gas leases.

The Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program also has an excellent track record of benefiting wildlife habitat, landowners and public users. Since 1988, this program has completed more than 1,300 collaborative habitat restoration projects with private landowners, including 1,441 miles of riparian habitat, 40,965 acres of wetlands, and 467,438 acres of grasslands and forests. Make no mistake: this is the sort of program that Montana’s game and fish species need to flourish, particularly in places that intersect with agricultural properties.

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, included in S.47, deserves our cheers as well. It removes more than 30,000 acres of public lands from mineral exploration and extraction. This land, situated just outside of Yellowstone National Park, provides some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the state. Montanans everywhere should feel relief that these acres – and the outdoor activities they provide – now are conserved for future generations.

We both feed our families and our souls thanks to the public lands and waters within our state, which is why we believe in robust conservation funding to support our fish and wildlife and outdoor traditions. We’re proud to say that all of our congressional delegates voted the right way on S.47. We encourage them to now build on this historic bipartisan effort to prioritize our public lands and waters. We still need to secure dedicated funding for LWCF. Likewise, the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act, a widely celebrated bipartisan effort to balance the needs of hunters, anglers, outfitters, loggers and ranchers in the Blackfoot Watershed, deserves immediate consideration by this Congress. Let’s keep the ball rolling for Montana’s natural resources. We’ve got work to do!

Christian Appel lives in Bozeman. Hannah Nikonow lives in Missoula. Both are Board Members of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

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