Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined Senator Jon Tester and local ranchers at Rolling Stone Ranch to highlight the successes of the Blackfoot Challenge and the Working Lands Council, public-private partnerships that help conserve the Crown of the Continent's scenic landscapes while supporting the region's traditional rural economy. The Rolling Stone Ranch is owned by Jim Stone, a rancher who has led extensive watershed restoration on his 2,400-acre cattle ranch for more than two decades working through the Partners for Conservation program.
Secretary Jewell also underscored the importance of outdoor recreation to Montana's economy and called for Congress to support the President's budget request for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenue primarily from oil and gas development in offshore federal waters to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities across the country.
"Ranchers like Jim Stone and other landowners in the Crown of the Continent region have created a conservation model that is being replicated across the country, from the Great Plains to the Everglades," Jewell said. "Through the Blackfoot Challenge, the Working Lands Council and other partnerships, Montanans have proven that we can conserve and restore our land and its wildlife in concert with traditional rural ways of life that have been passed down through many generations."
"The best way to preserve our treasured places and our rural economy is to encourage collaborative public-private partnerships like the Blackfoot Challenge and the Working Lands Council that strengthen our way of life," Tester said. "I'm glad Secretary Jewell got to see and hear firsthand from Montanans about how we work together to manage our landscapes while creating more Montana jobs."
The 10-million acre Crown of the Continent region in northwest Montana is one of the most biologically diverse and intact ecosystems in the country. About 20 percent of the region is privately owned, and ranchers and other landowners have joined forces with federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and local communities to protect and enhance hundreds of thousands of acres through voluntary conservation easements and projects ranging from noxious weed control to stream restoration.
In recent years, the Crown of the Continent has benefitted from an innovative approach to conservation that better aligns priorities across federal agencies to enable more impactful investments at a landscape-level. The Obama Administration has targeted funding for land acquisition efforts to support community-driven conservation goals in key landscapes, including the Crown of the Continent, the Southwest Desert and the Longleaf Pine in the Southeast. To date, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used nearly $32 million in LWCF funding to protect over 86,000 acres of private land in the Crown. An additional $12 million was included for the Crown in the FY14 Omnibus Budget.
Overall, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided more than $417 million to support conservation and recreation projects in Montana, including protecting landscapes, watersheds and access points. Hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor activities pumped $5.8 billion into the state's economy and supported 64,000 jobs, according to a recent study by the Outdoor Industry Association.
"These investments are invaluable to both the economy and the quality of life enjoyed not only by Montanans but also by people across the country, yet the LWCF has only been fully funded once since it was enacted in 1965," Jewell said. "The President's budget would fully fund the LWCF and guarantee that these revenues that are taken from the land in the form energy development will be put back into the land in the form of conservation and recreational projects."
Jewell also noted that Montana's eight units of the National Park System pumped $403 million into local communities in 2012, supporting 6,525 jobs, according to a recently released report by the National Park Service. Visitors to Glacier National Park alone spent $172.4 million, supporting 2,754 jobs.
"People who live near our parks and other public lands know that they are economic engines for their communities," she said. "For every dollar we invest in our parks, for example, we get $10 in economic activity. That translates into healthier businesses, more jobs, and a better standard of living for everyone."