As you may know, Montana’s outdoor recreation economy generates more than $7.1 billion in consumer spending and supports 71,000 Montana jobs. Our outdoor economy is responsible for funneling $286 million in state and local taxes. Ninety-six percent of Montanans recently polled agree that the outdoors are important to our state’s economic future, and 95% say outdoor recreation is important to their quality of life. A 2019 Gallup poll ranked Montana fifth in the “Happiest and Healthiest States in America,” no doubt due in large part to what’s in our backyard(s).

What may not be quite as easily realized is the importance of our outdoors to general health – of our communities and our economies – and the connection between health, our outdoors and a vibrant economy. As health care professionals and business leaders in Montana, we see firsthand the importance of the outdoors to the health of our communities. We also know that a healthy workforce is critical to our businesses, and we understand the connection between a healthy outdoors, and a healthy, diverse economy.

A growing body of research documents the link between time spent outdoors and reduction of stress, improvement of productivity, increased mental clarity and positive impacts on health issues ranging from depression to diabetes and heart disease. Case after case shows us that Montana’s incredible outdoor amenities serve as a major factor in helping to recruit and retain top-notch doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs and business leaders to our state.

More than 70% of Business for Montana’s Outdoors members cite the outdoor amenity lifestyle as a key factor in their decision to do business in Montana – including the ability to attract and retain talent. The research supports that once that talent is recruited, outdoor experiences contribute to productivity in the workplace.

Montana is blessed with rich outdoor assets, including 33.8 million acres of public lands, nearly 170,000 miles of rivers, and more than 3,200 lakes and reservoirs. One of the most valuable things we can do to support the health and value of our outdoors is to invest in the needs of our recreation infrastructure and outdoor assets, pushing for comprehensive conservation funding.

Businesses continue to get behind the message that our outdoors are vital to their successes across the state. The MT High Tech Business Alliance noted that in a 2018 poll of their members, the most frequently mentioned advantage to doing business in the state was “our lifestyle, recreational opportunities, and the beauty of the landscape.” Our outdoors support jobs, communities, and health in nearly equal parts.

Data supports the science of being outdoors and the benefits of not only physical activity but of mental health and wellbeing, and that foundational element is recognized as key to keeping the health of our communities. Further, health care providers are quick to talk about the value of the outdoors to a healthy community profile, and often hear from recruits that access to the state’s outdoor amenities is often the tipping point in their choice to work in Montana vs. other states.

Our landscapes are the backbone of the healthy outdoor experiences we know are important not only to our way of life as Montanans, but also to our overall health. As many of us are making resolutions for a healthier 2020, it is important to remember that investing in our outdoors has a deeper impact than just keeping our landscapes healthy; it commits to supporting jobs, communities, and the values of the people who make up the fabric of Montana’s economy. As we watch the ongoing debate over our national budget, let’s not forget the importance of a comprehensive system of conservation funding that fuels our outdoors. Our health and economy are counting on it.

Karen Baumgart is the director of BillingsWorks; Shawn Hinz, is vice president of public health services for RiverStone Health.