For the past two decades, the bulk of my writing has tied directly to public land, conservation and wildlife. My latest book, Large Mammals of the Rocky Mountains (2018), details the biology and behavior of animals whose habitat lies primarly on public land and that play a critical role in Montana’s outdoor recreation industry, a massive economic driver that account for $7.1 billion and is the second largest sector of the state’s economy.
It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the value of public lands in our state and across the nation. These lands represent the source of most of the nation’s drinking water, and they’re home to our most treasured wildlife species. They provide ranchers with grass for their cattle and hold vast energy resources. They’re where Montanans go to hunt, hike, fish and relax. But the current administration’s management and funding of public land resources are misguided.
Because Congress can’t seem to acknowledge the value of investment in public lands, visitors endure lines just to use the bathroom in Yellowstone National Park during the summer. National Forest campgrounds are closed during our hunting seasons. Law enforcement on BLM lands is laughable due to lack of resources.
Management is often as poor as the funding. For example, in 2015 ranchers, energy interests, hunters, state and federal land managers and biologists crafted a compromise plan to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list. But in recent months the current administration threw the plan aside in favor of oil and gas extraction on millions of acres of sage grouse core habitat, upping the odds of a future endangered species listing – which nobody wants because it greatly encumbers the land – and increasing the degradation of habitat for prized big game animals, like mule deer, and other wildlife that share sage grouse habitat. No one got everything from the sage grouse recovery plan, but all constiuencies bought in. Those kinds of compromise solutions are far better than sacrificing wildlife, water and habitat resources to the highest bidder.