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2020 dealt us all its fair share of unprecedented times. In the new year, we look forward to fresh opportunities, better health, and brighter possibilities on the horizon. Some light at the end of the long tunnel that has been 2020 is something we all desperately need in 2021.

A new year also brings new challenges, and few things will face as many as our great outdoors. This year, more than ever, it’s critical that our new governor, state Legislature and business community commit to protecting and maintaining the public lands that are central to Montana’s success.

2020 was uniquely trying for public lands, illustrating the critical nature of their importance, and the fragile essence of their vulnerability. People who live in Montana spent even more time outside. People who don’t live in Montana came here to find respite from the pandemic and fell in love with what they found on our rivers and trails, and in our campgrounds. Even while struggling, diverse businesses delivered adventures, and a remote and mobile workforce decided that Montana was just where they needed to be.

Accordingly, we saw the popularity of recreation on our public lands and waters rise to an all-time high. Our outdoors are why people choose to come here, stay here, build businesses, and raise families here. They bring advantages in business, and are critical to our livelihoods and way of life in Montana. It’s more important than ever that we support popular policies and state funding programs aimed at maintaining and expanding good stewardship, better management, and more opportunities to access and acquire public lands.

We have an enormous opportunity, and a responsibility to our outdoors. Montanans elected new leaders with the mandate to uphold the values that shape the reason we choose to live, work, and play here. Foremost among those values is a love of and commitment to public lands.

Business for Montana’s Outdoors understands firsthand the value and importance of Montana’s outdoor recreation opportunities, access to public lands and waters, wild nature, and natural beauty. These are bedrock qualities of our economy and our way of life. Our public lands are integral to who we are as individuals, business owners, and Montana citizens.

A unifying platform, our outdoor recreation industry illuminates the connection between economy and environment, diverse public lands users, and the unique character of our communities. We must fiercely protect and advocate for the assets that provide for all of us — boat ramps, trails, state parks, clean water, wildlife habitat, and more — so that future generations of innovators and entrepreneurs can enjoy the same benefits for years to come.

2021 brings new opportunities that lay a strong foundation for Montana’s continued success. It presents BFMO with the chance to support efforts by the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition to improve recreation infrastructure along 175 river miles of the Lower Yellowstone from Hysham to North Dakota — a project that would support the integrity of private lands, provide key public access points, create business opportunities, and bring new revenue streams to eastern Montana communities.

It allows us to continue supporting Habitat Montana, Montana’s premier habitat conservation and access program, and the Office of Outdoor Recreation, which advocates for our outdoor recreation economy and its 70,000 supported jobs. As a business community, we’ll continue to push for full implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and support the community-built Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act as solid and worthy policies. We will welcome work with state legislators to advance meaningful legislation supporting public lands across the state.

Montana businesses have always taken pride in sharing their stories of connection to the outdoors. We tout the advantages that our public lands give in recruiting talent, and the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle that creates productive and successful work cultures. Our natural resources are one of our business community’s biggest assets, and in 2021, we look forward to the work it will take to to rededicate ourselves to conserving, supporting, and maintaining them, at every level.

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Marne Hayes is the executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, which represents 225 businesses and 4,500 jobs reliant on the economic value of our outdoors.