Guest opinion: Wilderness generates business for Montana

Mystery Ranch wouldn’t be the company it is, nor would we be located in Bozeman, if it weren’t for Montana’s wilderness heritage. Our respect for that heritage is so great, that several of our hunting backpacks carry the name of the state’s wilderness areas – the Bob Marshall, the Scapegoat, the Anaconda-Pintler, and the Cabinets.

Hunting and backpacking in Montana’s backcountry – be it a big “W” wilderness area, a wilderness study area, or a wild place without “wilderness” in its official name – serve as the inspiration behind our business, our products, and the work of our 100+ employees. It is likely the inspiration for hundreds of other businesses in the state, outdoor-related or not.

This week, the Legislature attacked Montana’s wilderness heritage and passed House Joint Resolution 9, calling on Congress to release seven wilderness study areas in the state. This would strip protection from the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn, West Pioneer, Blue Joint, Sapphire, Ten Lakes, Middle Fork Judith, Big Snowies, and other wilderness study areas beloved by hunters, anglers, hikers, and other users. It would make close to a million acres of premier big game habitat vulnerable to development.

Lawmakers passed this divisive resolution in spite of receiving thousands of emails and phone calls in opposition. At a hearing on the resolution in the House Natural Resources Committee, more than 70 people signed in as opponents, while 10 signed in as proponents, mostly industry representatives.

The WSAs proposed for the HJ9 chopping block are some of the wildest places in Montana, places that are vital for wildlife and offer pristine recreational opportunities and the clean water that many of our communities and blue-ribbon fisheries depend on.

Each of these WSAs is unique and deserves its own careful consideration of future status, not a one-size-fits-all plan like this resolution, that takes Montanans out of the process for deciding how these places will be managed in the future. That perhaps is the aim of HJ9 – to make an end run around every Montanan’s right to weigh in on the fate of these lands.

That’s not how we do things in Montana. We work together with our neighbors to arrive at solutions that are best for our state and people. We don’t appreciate top-down legislation crafted and supported solely by politicians, no matter if they are in D.C. or Helena.

Deciding how to best manage these special landscapes is challenging work that takes time and understanding, and must include a diversity of voices and interests.

Montanans have a good track record of doing that work. The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, and many other grassroots, community-led efforts have empowered Montanans to find consensus over the fate of our public lands.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates that elk, deer and antelope hunters alone spent $324 million in Montana in 2016 and supported 3,300 jobs. With numbers like these boosting our bottom line in Montana, we can’t act with the recklessness that HJ9 proposes, recklessness that threatens the places that our big game populations depend on.

We can’t let politicians who aren’t listening to Montanans and haven’t considered the collaborative, community-driven ideas dictate how we manage wild places and other public lands across the state. Let your local elected officials know that HJ9 should never have passed. Not only does it strike at Montana’s wilderness heritage and our hunting economy, it also strikes at the time-honored tradition of respect and collaboration among the people of this state.