Steve Daines was elected to the U.S. Senate on a campaign promise to strike a balance between conservation and responsible development. But will he keep it?
After taking his oath in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, Sen. Daines told the Great Falls Tribune, “Montanans are tired of the gridlock. They are tired of the partisanship. They want to see results. We are here first and foremost to represent the people of Montana.”
However, since his election only three months ago, Daines already shows signs of turning his back on his message of unity.
First and foremost, what unifies Montanans is our deeply held connection to the outdoors. It’s why we live here. Our public lands embody our outdoor culture, and balancing the protection of our public lands with responsible natural resource development is paramount to the well-being of Montanans and to our economy.
Yet as our junior senator starts showing his cards, he’s demonstrating that his primary interest is in opening up public land to development, forsaking millions of acres of forests, waterways, mountains, and prairies that Montanans hold dear.
I hope readers will join me in letting Sen. Daines know that responsible conservation matters.
Our public lands give Montana a leg up on other states. They attract talented employees who want to live and work where they play. And, they draw visitors from across the nation and the globe to enjoy our state’s unparalleled scenic beauty. In fact, non-Montanans spent an astounding $3.98 billion in our state just last year.
What Montana’s don’t want to see is a policy that prioritizes resource extraction over the many other uses of our public lands. The 2014 “Conservation in the West” poll confirms these facts by finding that 50 percent of Montana voters want a balanced approach between energy development and public land conservation. That’s compared with just 20 percent of folks who want lands thrown open to oil, gas, and other industrial activities.
What Montanans do want to see is Sen. Daines focused on strengthening our growing outdoor economy. He can start by promoting better access on Montana’s public lands
Meanwhile, oil and gas companies have more access to national public lands in Montana than they know what to do with. According to federal stats, companies in our state currently hold leases on 2.6 million acres of public lands, nearly 2 million acres of which are sitting unused.
Sen. Daines claims he is an avid sportsman with an interest in protecting Montana’s access to public lands. But he needs to prove it. Fresh water, healthy soil, and habitat for big game species are Montana’s best asset.
Please join me in calling his Montana office at 406-245-6822 to let our newest senator put his focus back on what really matters to Montanans: the protection of our vulnerable and valuable natural assets.
-- Joe L. Perry, 4125 Circle S. Road, Brady, Mont., is a fourth generation Montanan, and a farmer and landowner. He holds a degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana. He has been a life-long conservationist and is active on Montana issues.