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New Congress Should Revive a “Conversation We Must Never Ignore”

By Jim Klug, Guest Columnist
The Bozeman Chronicle
November 17, 2014

Those of us who make a living in Montana’s outdoors keep track of a few important events on the calendar: the start of ski season, the end of hunting season, road closures in Glacier and Yellowstone and, yes, even Election Day.

With the midterm elections behind us and the start of a new session of Congress just a few weeks away, Montana is in for a changing of the guard.

Steve Daines will soon join Jon Tester in the Senate. Ryan Zinke will represent all Montanans with our one vote in the House. On behalf of Montana’s thriving outdoor recreation industry, we congratulate them both on their new jobs. Now more than ever, we’re counting on our new guard to rise to the challenge of protecting our land with more than words and press releases.

A lot of pundits are looking back at the 113th Congress and blaming partisan gridlock on the unprecedented lack of faith in Congress. Our new congressional delegation will have numerous opportunities to work together on behalf of all Montanans and break that gridlock. Those of us who support jobs in our outdoor industry remind them all that they need look no further than the people they represent for the lowest-hanging fruit.

Montanans have spent years collaborating and working together on hard fought balanced solutions for our public lands. We are united in wanting to protect access to our public lands.

This next year could go down in history as the year politicians set aside politics and break through the gridlock. It’s not rocket science. It’s not Democratic politics. It’s not Republican politics. It’s just common sense, and it matters to the people of Montana.

Here’s what Sen. Tester, Sen. Daines, and Rep. Zinke can do in 2015 to melt the ice jam that has plagued Washington for so long:

• Fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and make sure the money in the fund is used for what it’s meant. LWCF – which funds everything from parks to paths to boat ramps to public access – is set to expire next year. No state in the country has benefited more from LWCF than Montana and we will lose if this program is not renewed. The best thing about LWCF is that the funding doesn’t even come from taxes; it comes from offshore oil leases.

• Pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. This legislation is Montana’s most moderate collection of conservation measures that has ever moved forward in Congress. It was created by local ranchers and sportsmen working together to protect our ranching and hunting heritage. After seven years of hard work, the current version of the legislation is balanced and fair. Montanans support the act and want to see it passed.

• Pass the North Fork Watershed Protection Act. Let’s pass this legislation once and for all and protect the crystal clear North Fork of the Flathead River. This legislation is a great start, but it should not be the only conservation legislation that Montana’s Republican representatives agree to.

But why wait for 2015? Sens. Tester and Walsh, Sen.-elect Daines and Rep.-elect Zinke can work together right now – before the year is out – to deliver any one of these priority issues. At the very least, there’s no reason for the new Congress to ignore these bills in January.

We hope a new year and a new Congress will reinvigorate the conversation we must never ignore about protecting our public lands and our access to them. It’s a matter of Montana jobs (more than 64,000 of them, in fact). It’s a matter of responsibility for future generations.

We look forward to the leadership and commitment to public lands that Daines and Zinke have promised. And we will be watching closely, and rooting them on, when they put Montana first.

Jim Klug is the founder and director of operations for Yellow Dog Flyfishing and a member of Business for Montana Outdoors.

The original article can be found via The Bozeman Chronicle.

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