Guest opinion: Tester champion for Montana anglers

by Dan Vermillion, Billings Gazette

Twelve million tourists visited Montana last year pouring billions of dollars into our state’s economy. In survey after survey, visitors cite our clean, cold waters and our well-managed natural resources as their reason for visiting Montana. In addition to tourists, thousands of Montana’s ranching and faming families nourish their crops and water their livestock with Montana’s clean water. Montana’s tourism industry and agricultural industry are by far the two biggest sectors of our economy. One of the quickest ways to turn off that steady stream of income is to pollute Montana’s waters with unregulated, toxic mine waste.

Congress recently repealed the Stream Protection Rule that kept toxic mining waste out of our waterways. It still seems that many in Congress don’t really care about the small business owners, anglers, famers and ranchers in Montana that rely on clean water. The Stream Protection Rule was an important measure that guarded our waterways from toxic mining run-off, protected our fishing spots, protected our livestock, and protected the thousands of related jobs in the outdoor recreation industry and the agricultural industry. The rule took nearly a decade to craft and was the first major update to surface mining regulations in more than 30 years. The Stream Protection Rule could have been implemented without significantly harming jobs or putting an undue burden on the coal industry.

Montana’s anglers, farmers, and ranchers should applaud Sen. Jon Tester’s vote to protect the Stream Protection Rule; he clearly understands the importance of preserving our world-class fisheries. Unfortunately, Sen. Steve Daines voted to abolish the Stream Protection Act, a move which many men and women whose livelihoods depend on our outdoor recreation industry and agricultural industry feel warrants an explanation. It is even more surprising since Daines is a fisherman, a hunter who presumably understands the value of clean water to agriculture.

Montana’s clean water is not just part of Montana’s outdoor legacy. It is one of the cornerstones of a thriving outdoor recreation/agriculture industry that brings millions of dollars to our local economy and creates countless jobs. The outdoor recreation economy in Montana accounts for nearly $6 billion in consumer spending, propelling nearly 65,000 direct jobs. Montana’s agricultural industry accounts for $5.3 billion in spending and 27,800 family ranches and farms.

I make my living guiding on our rivers because I love being immersed in all Montana has to offer. Pristine waters and great fishing bring tourists from all over the world to Big Sky Country, supporting tourism as Montana’s second largest industry next to agriculture. Thousands of small business owners like myself rely on healthy fisheries. Similarly, thousands of family businesses rely on clean water for the success of their farm and ranch businesses.

Montana is a special and beautiful place. We need to keep her rivers and streams clean so our children and grandchildren can continue to fish, hunt, and farm here. Our economy and our way of life depend on it.

Dan Vermillion lives in Livingston and chairs the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.