In Montana, the business of outdoor recreation is big business. Whether you are REI or a local main street operation selling gear and goods to communities who thrive on our outdoor amenity lifestyle, you are contributing to the $7.1 billion economy of the outdoors. Our mission at REI is centered on getting people outside to explore and experience nature and to be good stewards of our public lands. It’s the core of our business model, and the reason we are invested in the outdoors and the good policies that support them both here in Bozeman, and across the country. The Montana REI stores employ approximately 170 people and we’re proud to help fuel Montana’s growing outdoor economy which generates $2.2 billion in wages and salaries, and supports 71,000 jobs (and hiring).
Our mission, our business model, our customers and our team thrive because of Montana’s incredible outdoor amenities — we live and work here because of our outdoor lifestyle and the draw of the outdoor experience. And we know we are not alone. Our public lands are a crucial component of Montana’s growing outdoor recreation economy, and an asset that deserves unwavering critical support.
We are stunned that Congress has let this 2018 session end without a solution for reauthorization or funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In no other business model are key assets allowed to expire, or critical elements left un-invested. Our leaders in Congress have appeared to turn a blind eye to the most successful and bipartisan conservation tool we have as Americans, and by not reauthorizing or assigning dedicated funding, the Land and Water Conservation Fund remains in limbo at a cost of $2.4 million a day to conservation and recreation investments across the country.
Now, as the year winds down we can reflect on the numerous opportunities that Congress had to bring LWCF back to life, and failed. And reauthorization of a program without funding is equal to trying to make a car run without gas, or using a flashlight without a battery. It won’t work, and no matter the spin, until reauthorization and funding happen together, LWCF is still a tool that we cannot use. It’s like rigging a flyrod backwards. It just won’t work.
We have consistently heard our Senators’ support for LWCF, but now is the time for leadership that influences congressional colleagues in the majority of what LWCF truly means to Montana’s economy and Montana jobs. We don’t need to hear anymore about how hard “we tried.” We need to hear how “we did.”
Yes, LWCF is a conservation tool — but it’s also a business asset and a critical piece of infrastructure to companies like ours. We need more than talk to bring LWCF back, and until that happens our livelihoods and our way of life face uncertainty. We are relying on our leaders in congress go to bat for us, conveying that Montana’s public lands are part of our communities, and the lifeblood of what makes us tick. Tell their colleagues in leadership how we can’t afford to continue on without LWCF, and about the way of life dependent on our outdoors that draws business, innovation, jobs, and visitors. Tell them that Montana businesses need Congress to get to work on LWCF.
Teresa Larson represents Bozeman’s REI store as a member of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, which represents 210 businesses responsible for more than 4,800 jobs.