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On this Memorial Day, I’m thinking of our men and women returning from active military service. They deserve our support as they reintegrate back to civilian life. As a veteran, I understand some of the challenges they face in looking for work, accessing health care, or returning to school.

As a veteran and native Montanan, I have always found solace in our state’s great outdoor offerings. I can also say from experience that one aspect of Montana life that serves the veterans community well is easy access to parks and public lands across the state. For a veteran needing to heal and reconnect with home and family, the power of getting out for a picnic or returning to a favorite fishing hole or hunting ground cannot be overstated. This is also something that citizens all across our great nation come to our state to experience.

Across Montana these special places continue to be protected thanks to an important program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Using no taxpayer dollars, the LWCF directs a small slice of our federal offshore oil and gas royalties to protect our nation’s outdoor recreation heritage. Unfortunately, much of the funding is diverted away from outdoor recreation and conservation purposes each year.

Moving forward, it is important that we remember the value the LWCF holds for Montana. Each year almost one million Montana residents and visitors hunt, fish or get outside to view wildlife. Many of the places we frequent in the outdoors have been touched by LWCF funding. As an avid sportsman, I was pleased to find out that fishing access sites all over our state, including the historic Blackfoot River, where I have spent so much of my own time fly fishing throughout the years has also been a recipient of these funds. Other Montana landmarks that have been beneficiaries of funding are the Rocky Mountain Front, Bitterroot, Custer and Lewis and Clark National Forests to name a few. These are sacred lands for the people of our state.

Over the past several years, Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have teamed up to support LWCF funding for locally-driven conservation priorities and enhanced access for hunting, fishing and other recreation across the state. A House-Senate conference committee – including our own Senator Baucus – will soon begin deliberations in Congress on the Surface Transportation Act to address our nation’s infrastructure needs. They will also debate a provision to ensure that annual deposits into LWCF are used as intended to address our outdoor recreation needs. Supported by our senators, this provision passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 76-22. Now House leaders need to be convinced to retain the provision in the final proposal.

Sens. Baucus and Tester are watching out for veterans by helping them find jobs, access well-deserved benefits and by protecting Montana’s magnificent outdoors. Getting outside to fish, hunt and otherwise enjoy the rivers and mountain landscapes we know so well, can be unparalleled in its healing and restorative value. Sometimes this can make all the difference.

Tyler Johnson was born and raised in Missoula. He served six years in the United States Air Force and recently earned his master’s degree in health sciences from Montana State University. He is a member of the Vet Voice Foundation, www.vetvoicefoundation.org.

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