Montana Voices: Business owners to Zinke: Public lands are economic drivers

This month, President Donald Trump accepted Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations to shrink national monuments in Utah, affecting both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. This was the first step in unraveling Theodore Roosevelt’s signature public lands policy – The Antiquities Act.

This move will result in the largest reversal of public lands protections in American history. We join hundreds of businesses and business organizations around the country who do not support Secretary Zinke and President Trump’s rollback of national monuments.

It doesn’t matter that these places are in Utah, what matters is that the precedent of removing protections from public lands like our national monuments is detrimental to surrounding businesses, and a slippery slope for threats to other, similar places.

As Montana businesses, we have shared our concerns through a series of video messages directed at Secretary Zinke. The bottom line is that rolling back public lands protections hurts the economy.

In Montana, we understand firsthand how important our public lands are for our businesses. Our values are simple, and shared with our western neighbors: we stand up for public lands because they give our businesses a competitive edge, improve our ability to hire and retain talent and fuel our state’s economy.

There are a host of statements and reactions making the rounds since President Trump’s announcement. Weeding through them to decipher fact from fiction is difficult. The bottom line is that public lands are just that; public. Our interest is to make sure that the value of public lands like national monuments remains a priority, so that those places will be protected and intact for generations to come.

Our businesses are included in the more than 2.8 million Americans who reached out and asked the President and Interior Secretary to leave these monuments intact. That sentiment accounted for 98 percent of all of the comments submitted during Secretary Zinke’s review.

Just because our businesses are not in Utah doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about movements and threats to monuments in other states. Just because Montana’s national monument is not at risk does not mean that it couldn’t be in the future.

We believe an attack on one monument is an attack on them all. We stand with the local businesses throughout the West who benefit from a multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation economy that provides 7.6 million jobs. We stand with the nearly 600 businesses from across America who signed a letter opposing the rollback of national monument protections.

In Montana, public lands contribute to a growing outdoor economy that 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. Research shows that areas with the highest percentage of protected public lands are also leading in job growth, personal income, and increased per capita income.

When we talk about rolling back monuments and restricting access, what we’re really doing is restricting our businesses’ ability to attract employees and be competitive in a national marketplace.

Our message for Secretary Zinke is simple: we know you understand how important public lands are to Montana jobs. This value crosses state lines, and sets precedents whether we are talking about Utah, or Montana. We ask that you please stop advocating for the rollback of public lands protections, and take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to advise the Administration on the right thing to do.

Jeff Welch, Maggie Carr, Yve Bardwell, Jake Kreillick and Maggie Doherty and their businesses are all members of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, and advocate for the value of Montana’s public lands.