If you’re a Montanan, there is a great chance that you have spent some of — if not an abundance of — your free time hunting, fishing, camping, or otherwise participating in the unmatched outdoor experiences that our iconic public lands provide. It’s what makes Big Sky Country such a unique place and why Montanans have a love for the outdoors practically from birth.
This isn’t just hyperbole. A new report we just released shows that outdoor recreation in Beaverhead County is a massive economic driver, generating more than $167 million each year for Montana’s economy while creating over 1,400 jobs — many of which are located in the county. As the report notes, this “is a sizable contribution to the local workforce, given that just over 9,000 people live in Beaverhead County.”
Conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana (BBER) on behalf of the Montana Wildlife Federation, this report is an important addition to the ongoing discussions about how we manage our treasured public lands. Do we embrace the value of hunting, angling, and outdoor recreation by taking steps to conserve and restore sensitive fish and wildlife habitats? Or do we open up these lands to incompatible development, in spite of their importance for outdoor recreation and fish and wildlife?
Much of the hunting and angling that occurs in Beaverhead County takes place on federal public lands — which is why it’s so worrisome that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) management plan for these lands is more than 15 years old and does not reflect the importance of hunting and fishing to local residents and business owners.
In fact, this outdated plan allows oil and gas drilling to take place on more than 1.2 million acres of public land managed by BLM’s Dillon Field Office, despite BLM itself saying nearly all of these lands lack any significant potential for oil and gas development. This means when these lands are leased to oil and gas companies, they tend to just sit there — producing next to nothing for Montana’s taxpayers.
Even though Beaverhead County is not a prime spot for drilling, it is still threatened by oil and gas activity. On two separate occasions over the past few years, oil and gas companies have tried to lease federal lands in areas with sensitive fish, wildlife, and water resources. And, an oil and gas company is currently seeking permission to drill on federal lands in the Tendoy Mountains — an area of irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat.
So what can be done? The Biden administration has made protecting public lands and the communities that use them a priority from day one. To continue that commitment, the administration should rethink its management approach for Beaverhead County and surrounding public lands that harbor sensitive fish, wildlife, and water values, so that it actually supports local communities that rely heavily on revenues from outdoor recreation and ensures that future generations of hunters and anglers can enjoy the same outdoor opportunities that we enjoy today.
You can view MWF’s new report, Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation in Beaverhead County by clicking HERE.