Open lands and an empty MT

7/2/2016 Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Column by GVLT Associate Director Kelly Pohl

I love watching out-of-staters puzzle out the Bozeman Brewing Company’s tag line, which almost has to be said out-loud to have the desired effect: “Drink till M-T”.

The play on words refers to emptying your can of microbrew, of course. But it works so well because of the double-meaning that Montana is also empty.

Montana is empty, at least in comparison to other places. We have more than 10 times fewer people per square mile than the country on average, ranking third-to-last in state population density. (Incidentally, we rank fourth in the country for microbreweries per capita.)

While the vast valleys and endless big sky may be relatively empty of people, they are full of importance.

Our open lands aren’t just empty spaces that are pretty to look at. They define our culture – our agricultural heritage, our outdoor lifestyle, our rural western ethics; and they are the foundation for our thriving economy – from agriculture to forestry to tourism.

The open lands all around us produce food, wildlife, and clean water for our nation. Montana’s farmland ranks in the top 15 for production of wheat and beef. Here in the Gallatin Valley, we have some of the finest agricultural soils not just in the state, but in the West. Montana is home to most of our nation’s iconic wildlife species – from bison to bears, elk to antelope. Our clean, clear water serves three major oceans: the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Hudson Bay.

Open lands are integral to who we are, so it follows that conservation of open lands in our policies and our economic decisions makes good sense for all Montanans.

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