Celebrating & conserving public-land access.
These days, few topics interest outdoors folk as much as public lands—and here in Montana, where most of our activities take place on state and federal land, it’s even more important.
Which is why politicians of every stripe support (or at least purport to) public lands and our access to them.
It’s also why we need to both celebrate and conserve these lands and access, and why entire events are held around this issue.
One such event happened last month in Livingston, when Jon Tester addressed the crowd at the Last Best Outdoors Fest: Women in the Outdoors. His voice as imposing as his six-foot, 300-pound frame, the two-term U.S. Senator and third-generation Montanan spoke about the importance of our state’s public lands and the value of these outdoor landscapes. “You guys wanna know why Montana is the greatest state in the world?” he asked. He then pointed to the mountains, and a murmur of agreement swept through the audience.
The event addressed several issues that are important to Montanans, and especially to outdoor recreationists. Front and center was a “Women in the Outdoors” panel, with five prominent female contributors to the state’s outdoor economy. Many women in the outdoors complain that they’re not considered as knowledgeable as their male counterparts, and that their opinions are not taken as seriously. The speakers advocated for better representation in this male-dominated industry, and spoke about their own conservation efforts and making a difference in the growth of the outdoor economy.
One big issue of the event, and for the country as a whole, was the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal program that provides funds to expand and conserve wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. This $100-million fund expires on September 30th, and without congressional reauthorization, the extent and quality of Americans’ outdoor recreation will be affected drastically. Tester urged everyone to call and email our congressional representatives to convey the importance of the fund to the future of Montana and its citizens. He reminded the crowd that these efforts do make a difference.
Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel, also addressed the crowd. She encouraged the people to think about our access to public lands and how it might change for the next generation. Many factors influence public access, including funding, and these lands are now at risk. Jewell stressed that the American people must take action to ensure that future generations will have as much access to, and appreciation for, the beautiful landscapes of Montana.
Outdoor recreation is a family pastime, and like any trailhead or park on a given summer weekend, the festival was full of families enjoying their time together. Kids ran around with kettle corn in one hand and lemonade in the other, their parents enjoying beer and grooving to the live music. Love for the outdoors and its importance in people’s lives was palpable.
The takeaway for many, from this event and from the larger issues taking place across the country, is that whether it’s Bozeman’s booming outdoor-recreation economy or the state’s public lands, anyone can talk about the changes that are coming—but only those who take action can make the changes they want to see. And now, with the smoke gone and nothing blocking the views of the mountains, it’s as good a time as any to be thankful for what opportunities the public lands give us, and to give back and help conserve them to the best of our efforts.
The summer festival season may have passed, but our collective love of the outdoors, and the threats to it, remain. Whether it’s hearing influential women bring light to these issues or calling our representatives to discuss important legislation, we do have a voice. And to protect our outdoor landscapes, we have to use that voice to make a difference.
Click here for a list of Montana’s congress members and their contact information.