The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in many changes to which we must all adjust. Phrases like “self-quarantine” and “social distancing,” rarely used or completely unheard of several months ago, are now a part of our daily vocabulary.
As we adjust to this “new normal,” America’s sportsmen and -women, a group that we are proud to represent as members of the Montana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, have found a way to pursue their outdoor passions while much of the world seemingly stood still. By participating in outdoor activities like hunting, fishing and recreational shooting, sportsmen and -women are setting an example for those looking for safe and responsible recreational opportunities. As restrictions start to ease, Americans are flocking to the woods, waters, fields and trails to take advantage of our outdoor resources, with many discovering nature’s wonders for the first time.
This newfound interest in outdoor recreation represents an invaluable opportunity to introduce American’s to activities like hunting and fishing and the vital role sportsmen and women play in conservation. In addition to the numerous documented mental and physical health benefits gained through these activities, maintaining access to hunting and fishing opportunities gives Americans a chance to procure their own locally sourced meat.
With all of this in mind, these unprecedented times represent a chance for a new generation of sportsmen and women to discover the passion that many of us already share. Be it through scouting for upcoming fall hunting seasons, or landing that first rainbow trout, now is the time to lead by example and plant the seeds for the next generation of sportsmen and -women.
Increased participation in hunting, fishing and recreational shooting has enormous conservation benefits as well through the American System of Conservation Funding. This “user pays-public benefits” approach relies on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle and motorboat fuel to fund many state fish and wildlife management agencies. In addition, these activities support local economies which, during these unprecedented times, has become incredibly important. In fact, recent surveys report that Montana’s 335,000 hunters and anglers spent $983 million while pursuing their outdoor passions.
Unfortunately, the ability of America’s sportsmen and -women to participate in their outdoor endeavors were not uniformly protected as statewide orders were announced. In fact, several states saw actions that hindered or even eliminated the ability to participate in our treasured outdoor traditions. While largely enacted in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these actions severely limited our outdoor opportunities without any measurable increase in public safety. To ensure that such restrictive actions are not used again, it is up to sportsmen and women to practice responsible recreation, showing by example that our outdoor pursuits can be performed safely. This can be accomplished by following a few simple guidelines:
- Plan ahead; purchase licenses and park passes online, if available.
- Adhere to best practices for avoiding COVID-19.
- Follow state and federal guidelines.
- Pack out your trash as a courtesy to others and to avoid the appearance of overuse.
- Share your adventures in a respectful way on social outlets.
Montana is the Treasure State for very good reason. Let’s continue to enjoy the great outdoors our state offers and the reason so many of us choose to live here.
Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, represents Senate District 42 in the Montana Legislature. Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, represents Senate District 43, and Rep. Matt Regier, R-Columbia Falls, represents House District 4.
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