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I have called Lincoln home since childhood, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. And since the mining and logging industries left town over the last few decades, it is tourism and outdoor recreation that have allowed me and my family to stay here.

Public lands and trails keep Lincoln going, and I know we’re not the only town like that. A recent survey of small business owners along the Continental Divide Trail showed that 97% of us feel that protection of public lands is important to the well-being of our local economies.

So when I got the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., to speak with our representatives in Congress about the importance of protecting and funding public lands, I was excited. Most of the time, when people visit D.C. to meet their elected officials, they only get to meet with staff; Congresspeople are busy! But because Montanans know the value of face-to-face communication, every Wednesday morning there is Montana Coffee, when U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte all take an hour to meet in person with Montanans visiting D.C.

I already knew that Daines and Tester are both strong supporters of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). But I hadn’t heard about Gianforte yet — so when I got to Montana Coffee, I walked right up and asked him how he feels about funding for public lands. He told me that he is a huge supporter of our public lands, and knows that they’re a big part of what makes Montana great.

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You can imagine how disappointed I was, then, when I later found out that Gianforte has stayed silent on the measure that would guarantee funding for LWCF. LWCF uses money from offshore drilling to protect and enhance public lands and community spaces. But almost every year, Congress takes some of the money intended for LWCF and uses it for other things. In the last 55 years, they’ve diverted more than $22 billion this way — money that was supposed to go to places like national parks, community rec centers and trails.

Montana’s senators have both sponsored a bill that would prevent Congress from doing that. Earlier this month, it passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a huge step forward in part thanks to the efforts of Senator Daines, a member of that committee. But Gianforte hasn’t supported the House version of the same bill — yet.

A fund without any funding just doesn’t make sense. Representative Gianforte told me he understands the value of public lands for Montana’s economy and way of life. So he should show us by supporting and voting for full, permanent funding of the LWCF.

Please join me in urging him to support Montana’s businesses and communities by calling his office at (202) 225-3211.

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Laurie Richards is president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.

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