Five years ago, a diverse group of business leaders from across the state met in Bozeman. While they represented many different industries, the common denominator was an understanding that our public lands play a critical role in our state’s economy.

Those first meetings inspired ideas about how to formally advocate for the economic value of our public lands, and today Business for Montana’s Outdoors has grown to include roughly 160 businesses and supporting organizations who represent more than 4,600 Montana jobs (and hiring). Early on, we helped commission some of the earliest research demonstrating the powerful connection between protecting our public lands, and fostering our economic growth.

This summer, our Last Best Outdoors Fest showcased new research released by Headwaters Economics in our five-year report. It showed that from 2000 - 2015, Montana’s economy created 102,000 net new jobs with 85 percent coming from service-related industries such as outdoor recreation, health care, real estate, professional and technical services.

The research consistently shows that Montana counties with the highest percentage of protected public lands are also the fastest-growing for job growth in the state. Recent Outdoor Industry Association research shows that Montana’s outdoor economy generates $2.2 billion in wages and salaries, $7.1 billion in consumer spending, $286 million in state and local tax revenue, and supports 71,000 jobs.

These are powerful reasons for sounding the alarm when federal policies threaten our public lands. Specifically, when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended the most significant rollback of national monument protections in history – our members held him accountable.

As Montana’s first cabinet secretary, Secretary Zinke vowed to uphold the values of Theodore Roosevelt, but instead has taken steps to derail Roosevelt’s signature legacy: The Antiquities Act. The arbitrary removal of national monument status to public lands in the West will hurt gateway businesses. We stand with those businesses and the jobs they provide and believe an attack on one monument is an attack on all.

Also this year, we joined hundreds of local businesses and bi-partisan local leaders in advocating for Senator Tester’s Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, which would protect 30,000 acres of public land on the doorstep to Yellowstone from large-scale gold mining. We were encouraged last week when Representative Gianforte answered the call of Montanans, introducing a clean companion bill in the House to keep mining off of the boundary of our first National Park.

Senator Daines’ “Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act”, currently introduced in Congress, is also on our radar. We are concerned with its blanket removal of protections from nearly half a million acres of wilderness study areas across Montana. This is a top-down swipe at public lands that shuts out virtually all public input raises great concerns for businesses and communities across the state.

As we head into the new year, a top priority is the reauthorization and full, dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation fund. LWCF doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime, using offshore drilling royalties for the purpose of protecting public lands across the country - including nearly 70% of our fishing access sites, and dozens of trails and parks throughout Montana. Without action, this bipartisan conservation program is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2018.

The New Year will bring more advocacy, and more work to protect our public lands. We will elevate our member voices to continue protecting our public lands from sale or transfer to states where the tax base cannot support robust management. We will do this work with the understanding that our jobs and our way of life depends on it. We welcome you to join us.

Marne Hayes is the executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors