Montana remains the last best place for fish and wildlife in a changing west. We are blessed with abundant fish and wildlife, due to a century of hard toil and hard choices made by our good people who had the courage to do the right thing. That is our legacy. That is our hope for the future.
Montanan's relationship to fish and wildlife is reflected in countless family scrapbooks that lovingly chronicle the passage of outdoor traditions from generation to generation. Our tie to the natural landscape is a defining characteristic of the state and its people.
However, if you read the newspaper or you've noticed business comings and goings on our main streets, you know that times are changing. Our natural resources are attracting a great many people from other parts of the country, and they are not just visitors or part-time residents. Drawn by our open spaces, magnificent landscapes, and unsurpassed wildlife opportunities, people are choosing to live in many parts of our state. Photos of the kids holding freshly caught trout are now taken with digital cameras and e-mailed to distant places.
These newcomers include service professionals—doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers, as well as entrepreneurs making use of new technologies and communications. They generate economic growth wherever they go. For decades our landscapes have been valued for timber, mining, and agriculture. Now these landscapes have additional value as lifestyle amenities, attracting people who are building fast-growing sectors of the economy.
Long-time Montanans and newcomers alike want good jobs and unsurpassed outdoor recreation opportunities. That's the Montana Challenge: to protect our cherished relationship with natural resources as we harvest their full economic benefit.
As our scrapbooks capture our personal experiences with fish and wildlife, the larger social and economic story is reflected in research findings and newspaper accounts. The following pages tell that larger story—and explain how it's your story as well.
Those outdoor moments we capture in snapshots take place within the larger context of community values and economic needs. More and more, Montanans feel the effects of social and economic changes originating outside our borders. Fail to understand these changes, and we risk our future relationship with the natural resources that define our character.
To meet the need for understanding, the Montana Challenge project brought together leading researchers to compile a database of information—biological, economic, and social—that reveals the connections among our values, our economy, and our fish and wildlife resources.
Just as we know in our hearts the value of our own outdoor experiences, we can look to key statistical information to help us understand the many values that fish and wildlife offer to our state. From that information emerges a compelling story involving government, business, jobs, family life, and much more.
By making this information widely available, the Montana Challenge project hopes to provide all Montanans—the public, resource agency managers, and other concerned people—with a common understanding of trends affecting fish and wildlife so we can make sound decisions on their behalf.
Montanans' love of fish and wildlife is reflected in our rates of participation in outdoor activities. We do more outdoors than Americans in general, and even more than people in our region. Similarly, people from elsewhere know Montana as a place of natural riches. The 9.8 million annual visitors to our state represent 10 times Montana's resident population and account for 43,300 jobs, for an economic impact of $2.75 billion.
Some of these visitors come back to stay. Today's technology allows people to live where they want, and growing numbers of people want to live near the mountains and rivers of the Rocky Mountain West. In fact, people are moving here in such numbers that our region is now called the Third Coast.
Montana is very much part of this trend. As we compete with our Rocky Mountain sister states for economic prosperity, we have an advantage. While Utah has its red rock monuments and Colorado its mighty peaks, Montana's abundant fish and wildlife populations lure visitors and investors alike. Thanks to hard choices made by generations past, Montana's wildlife, from magnificent grizzlies to graceful antelope, brands our state as an extraordinary place to live and do business.
Many of these newcomers bring their jobs and investment portfolios with them or create jobs when they arrive. They generate economic activity in service, technology, and the professions, adding diversity to Montana's long-time economic base of timber, mining, and agriculture, and opening new opportunities to people of all ages. These new residents, much like their long established neighbors, want to view spectacular natural landscapes and enjoy exhilarating outdoor experiences. Our natural landscape is key to broadening our economic landscape.
Importantly, these changes are not affecting all parts of the state in the same way. In population, natural resources, and economic status, Montana is actually three distinct regions, with many unique local settings. Climate and geology determine the landscape, vegetation, and wildlife, which in turn have shaped the nature of human economies arising in each region.
People moving to Montana are settling largely in the more mountainous western counties and to a lesser extent in the central counties along the Rocky Mountain Front. Like most of the agriculture-based Great Plains, our eastern counties have struggled with population decline and economic uncertainty—yet the uniquely spectacular landscapes and abundant fish and wildlife in these counties offer opportunities to attract economic activity. We are not a single ecosystem, nor are we a single economy.
Growing human communities create growing economic prosperity; yet, growth in unincorporated areas means more human impact on wildlife populations and fragmentation of habitat. While Montana has long been revered for ready access to pristine public landscapes, more visitors and outdoor-loving residents create more demand for access to these sites—often putting hikers, hunters, wildlife watchers, backcountry riders, and others at odds. On private lands, the newly arrived software developer and the fourth-generation rancher who sold him his property may feel very differently about allowing public hunting access.
Wildlife watching is listed consistently by visitors to all parts of Montana as one of their primary activities in this state. Popular fishing tournaments draw people to Fort Peck for walleye, Flathead Lake for trout, and other spots for other species. Hunting is the primary reason that many people visit national forests. Communities throughout Montana can create economic activity by developing birding trails, organizing wildlife festivals, enhancing fishing opportunities, catering to hunters, and otherwise displaying their fish and wildlife riches to attract business.
Throughout the state, we face the classic problem of husbanding the goose that lays the golden eggs: taking advantage of our fish and wildlife to generate needed economic activity, while protecting our natural resource riches for our own public enjoyment and for all time.
Resource managers and government decision-makers are on the frontlines of these challenges, but all Montanans have a role in understanding the facts and helping to determine the future. We are all part of the larger social and economic story, yet the story is very personal—for each of us and for our families, for generations to come.
In summary, Montana's Challenge is to manage our fish and wildlife for their traditional and deeply personal meaning to Montanans and their ability to attract the economic activity vital to our state's prosperity.