As small business owners that rely on Montana’s outdoors and public lands for our livelihood, we were aghast when we read that Montana’s lone Congressman Greg Gianforte voted for legislation that could put the Missouri River Breaks National Monument back on the chopping block.
Not only has as he voted to move this bill out of committee, he has yet to definitively tell Montanans where he stands on America’s treasured national monuments, including the Breaks. We demand to know why he is willing to risk these pristine lands, what his plan is moving forward, and what his motivations are in supporting these efforts.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recent national monument review was unexpectedly dropped in our laps, sparking inquiries from potential clients, who, much like us, were taken back by the review. The uncertainty and unpredictability of it could ultimately undermine the future success of ours and others’ businesses. This area is a successful recreation destination because it is intact, pristine, remote and wild - qualities only afforded by protections. After mounting opposition in his home state, Zinke eventually pardoned the Breaks.
But now we have come to learn that Zinke’s words were just that: only words. Riding the Secretary’s momentum to roll back the largest area of protected land in U.S. history and undo President Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy, Congress introduced H.B. 3990, giving presidents the authority to rescind national monument designations without congressional approval, among other nefarious stipulations. In short, every national monument would be at risk, and their protections could prove meaningless.
As business owners, we support jobs and infuse dollars into rural economies and communities like Fort Benton, our launching point. For Gianforte to saddle these rural communities with uncertainty is, quite frankly, un-American.
Underscoring the real threat to these protections, this week Secretary Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is auctioning off oil and gas leases right on the border of the Breaks, despite the fact that the outdoor economy, according the Bureau of the Economic Analysis, supports more jobs and generates more of an economic impact than oil, gas and mining combined.
We fully understand that a wide range of interests have to be balanced, but playing favorites for industry isn’t in Montana’s or the land’s best interest. Research consistently shows that the appeal of Montana’s recreation is that it remains one of the most ‘wild’ places in the country, where one can truly escape and experience nature in its purest form.
This corridor is unquestionably one the most important in the country for re-living, retracing and reconnecting to the West’s most significant piece of history: the Lewis and Clark Expedition that changed the fate and development of this country. However, it also remains one of the most fragile.This area is already struggling to adapt to irreversible degradation by the previous century’s reckless construction of dams, and it endures constant strain from overgrazing of cattle, which, if continued or increased, could also eliminate any chance of riparian area vegetation regeneration, primarily of the beloved and necessary cottonwood shade trees.
We dodged a major bullet when Zinke pulled the Breaks from the review, but our public lands are facing death by a thousand cuts. And if Gianforte has his way, our business would be shrouded with the real possibility that the President could eliminate the monument. Future generations could lose one of the most historically significant and cherished areas in the West, if not the nation.
Has Gianforte ever visited this area? Ever spent the night at the same camp as Lewis and Clark? Perhaps taking off the politician hat to gain a different perspective might change his mind. Gianforte should earnestly face Montanans and the businesses that rely on our outdoors. This hasn’t been his only attack on our public lands, and as business owners, we fear it won’t be his last. The bottom line is Representative Greg Gianforte doesn’t seem to hold the same values for our public lands as we Montanans do - he just doesn’t get it.