Outdoor recreation is essential to our economy

Hiker Tim Faber takes in the view of Dovetail Creek in the Musselshell Breaks.
Photos courtesy of Dave Mari

By DAVE MARI

Wind-swept, wide-open prairies and mountainous backdrops are what distinguish Montana from all other states. The sensation of being in big country, where you can hear nothing but breeze and the trilling of a meadowlark is why so many of us live here and why millions of others want to visit.
With geography such as Montana’s, it’s no surprise that quiet, outdoor recreation has become essential to our economy. Recent studies show exactly how important this type of recreation is. The Bureau of Land Management’s Lewistown Field Office would do well to consider these studies while revising its Resource Management Plan for the 750,000 acres in its area of responsibility.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation on public lands generates $5.8 billion in consumer spending, $1.5 billion in wages and salaries and $403 million in state and local tax revenue in the Treasure State. Outdoor recreation also supports 64,000 jobs in the state.
ECONorthwest, an independent economic analysis firm, recently took a closer look at Montana’s outdoor recreation economy and determined how much hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping and other types of quiet recreation on BLM lands contribute to the state’s economy. According to the study, there were 2.9 million quiet recreation visits to Montana’s BLM lands in 2015. Those visits generated $141 million in direct spending within 50 miles of the recreation sites, and those dollars circulated through the state economy, resulting in $41 million in employee salaries, wages and benefits. The study also shows these quiet recreation visits supported 1,797 Montana jobs.
That’s why I’m urging the BLM to create an RMP for the Lewistown Field Office that reflects how much quiet recreation means to Montanans, our visitors, and our economy. That means protecting the wildlands, wildlife and historic characteristics of certain special places across central Montana such as Dovetail and Crooked Creek in the Musselshell Breaks area.
Of course, the BLM has a mandate to manage public lands for multiple uses in addition to quiet recreation, including livestock grazing, energy development and off-road vehicle use. The agency can achieve that mandate by striking the right balance.
Livestock grazing can still occur in lands that have retained their wildness, and the potential for energy development appears to be low to non-existent in those same places. And there is plenty of space across the field office to accommodate off-road vehicle recreation in a way that won’t interfere with quiet recreation or damage those places that have retained their primitive quality.
Undeveloped, open space for quiet recreation in the prairies and island ranges of central Montana is obviously important to our state’s growing ranks of outdoor enthusiasts. The BLM can help sustain and perhaps even boost our local economies by ensuring that its Lewistown RMP keeps those quiet backcountry places as they are.

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