The Obama administration came to Bozeman looking for ideas on how to improve the outdoors in the United States.

It got hundreds.

More wilderness. No more wilderness. More funding. Fewer weeds. Increase logging on federal lands. Reduce the number of semi-trucks on U.S. Highway 287. Promote local foods. Educate the public. And put more climbing walls in public parks.

Over 200 people turned out for the morning listening session on the Montana State University campus. As part of its America's Great Outdoors Initiative, the Obama administration plans more than a dozen such events nationwide to gather ideas on how to preserve the outdoors and get Americans outside.

But with so many ideas floated by Bozeman-area folks alone - some in direct conflict with others - how will they make any sense of it?

"We are going to be quite inundated," Will Shafroth, an Interior Department official in town for the meeting, acknowledged. "We have to roll them up and work at the macro-level to deal with them."

Some ideas floated over the morning were out of the federal government's jurisdiction, he said, but others weren't. For example, scores of people agreed that the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be fully funded. Congress has authorized $900 million for the fund every year for parks and conservation, but it usually appropriates a fraction of that.

The crowd at MSU was a cross-section of Bozeman's outdoor culture. In attendance were backpack makers, ski area managers, wildlife advocates and snowmobilers.

"Preserve the wood products industry and make it profitable to harvest wood on (private) property rather than subdivide it," suggested Jason Todhunter with the Montana Logging Association. "The feds have their hands tied because of litigation. We need to find a way to let the federal land managers do their job."

Start with the national parks, suggested Tim Stevens with the National Parks Conservation Association.

"The heart of this discussion should be our national parks," he said. "We need to protect the core."

Au contraire, said Rep. JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, who urged an emphasis on open spaces in neighborhoods.

"Urban parks serve far more people than a national park," she said.

Ron Moody, a member of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission, said he just hopes the feds will follow through. After all, he said, he has been approached by federal officials before, and it has come to "much ado about very little."

"We will see if there is any lightning under all the thunder of the Great American Outdoors Initiative," he said.

As part of the initiative, the agencies holding the listening sessions - the first was held in Ovando on Tuesday and three were held in Montana Wednesday - will submit a report to President Barack Obama on how the federal government can help local governments promote and improve outdoor recreation.

"We don't have a predetermined, top-down agenda," Shafroth told the crowd in an opening statement. "We guarantee you whatever we do will be bottom-up."

Daniel Person can be reached at or 582-2665.


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