My Public Lands Story
Guest post by Hayley Connolly-NewmanOn September 27th, thousands of people from across the country celebrated National Public Lands Day. In Montana, public lands enthusiasts joined rallies, volunteered on various public lands improvement projects, and took advantage of free access by spending time on public lands, whether hunting or hiking. Last month also kicked off the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Wilderness Act, an important piece of legislation that protects some of the most pristine and road-less public land in the country. The combination of these two momentous events gave me a chance to reflect on the role public lands have had in my life, and I was surprised with the consistency and prevalence that these landscapes have played throughout its entirety. Public lands have given me some of my most memorable experiences and adventures; they are the foundation to my stories of successes, failures, and mishaps. And I am not alone. A 2014 poll by Colorado College found that 95% of Westerners
visited public lands in the last year. And I can guarantee that most took away lifelong memories. In that same vein, public land is a large reason people come to Montana, and as a result it creates our quality of life and sustains our economy. Hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation pursuits provided $5.8 billion in consumer spending in 2012 to our state, which is something we can’t ignore.
Public Lands Benefit the Economy and the Wilderness
For the benefit of the people, communities, businesses, and wildlife that depend on public lands, we must continue to push for legislation that will protect these important places. These reasons are why it is vital to support forward thinking legislation that takes into account all stakeholders- all while considering the integrity and health of the land. Only by including all these voices in the conversation will we garner sufficient support from the affected communities and create long-lasting, effective policy that future generations can be proud of.For the Wilderness Act and the many people involved in its passage 50 years ago, perseverance paid off. It took nearly 10 years and 66 drafts of the Wilderness Act before it was enacted. In this day and age, we must continue to be persistent for conservation minded legislation. Two examples of proposed legislation that I hope to see passed in my lifetime are the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act. Both of these bills take into account, and benefit, local communities, have bi-partisan support, and protect fish and wildlife habitat for future generations.
By engaging in a collaborative process, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act designates more than 600,000 acres of wilderness. Meanwhile the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act provides sound siting decisions for renewable development and long-term funding for conservation projects, all with the goal of protecting what myself and my fellow Montanans hold dear – clean cold water, healthy wildlife populations, and some of the last truly wild places. Not only do they provide necessary conservation measures, but these bills create jobs and sustain local economies.
Public lands have given me my job, my hobbies, and my goals and aspirations. In turn, I feel it is my role to stand up for public lands in Montana so others can have the same incredible and life changing experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life. Join me in standing up for our public lands.
Please call your Members of Congress and tell them we need a vote on this important piece of legislation. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senators’ or Congressman’s office. Ask to speak to the member of the staff who works on environmental, agricultural or appropriations issues. Tell them you would like to see the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act get the vote it deserves!
About the Author
Hayley was recently hired by National Wildlife Federation to help organize smart development of renewable energy on public lands in Montana. She received her M.S. from University of Montana focusing on road ecology and wildlife habitat corridors. In her spare time she can usually be found outside, whether it be exploring the mountains on horseback or perfecting her cast on one of Montana’s many scenic rivers.