Welcome to the 13th Annual TRCP Western Media Summit, held July 27 to 30, in Bozeman, Mont.
Influential policy makers, outdoor industry leaders, and more than two dozen members of the media kicked off three days of conservation discussion and discovery last night in Bozeman, Mont. The mission of the TRCP’s 13thannual Western Media Summit is to arm journalists to tell the most timely conservation stories impacting the Western states, including the controversial movement to transfer federal public lands to the states, the impending endangered species listing decision for the greater sage-grouse, and the economic value of safeguarding sportsmen’s access.
Despite the heavy rain, anomalous 48-degree temperatures, and dark clouds shrouding the nearby Gallatin Mountains, the ballroom of the Baxter Hotel, a refurbished landmark in the heart of historic Bozeman, was packed for the very first event of this year’s summit. The TRCP’s CEO and president, Whit Fosburgh, welcomed attendees by sharing some history of the organization’s longstanding tradition of bringing media together for a frank discussion of conservation over campfires and beer, with some hunting and fishing thrown in. He also praised the region for its significance to the summit’s themes. “We’re thrilled to be in Bozeman,” said Fosburgh. “Conservation works in concert with good access to hunting and fishing and a thriving outdoor economy, and this town is a perfect example.”
TRCP Board Chair Weldon Baird also spoke, emphasizing the positive role that journalists play in explaining complex environmental issues and conservation policies to the public. “Over the next couple of days, we’d like to share what’s important to us as an organization, and we’d also like to hear from you,” said Baird.
Paul Wilkins, TRCP’s chief conservation officer, then stepped up to the podium to welcome the evening’s headlining speaker, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who recently vetoed a bill aimed at studying federal public lands in the state, likely to make the case for transferring or selling them. “Public lands are part of the Montana ethos and a big sector of our economy. They represent a promise to future generations. But perhaps, like no other time before, that promise could be in jeopardy,” said Bullock. “Out-of-state interests hiring lobbyists to float the idea that the states should demand their lands back from the federal government certainly haven’t fooled me or Montanans. The true cost would be too great for us, or any other state, to handle. So, I vetoed the one bill that made it to my desk.”
Bullock also expressed gratitude for the media’s coverage of conservation issues. “Thank you to the journalists for what you do in educating the public about Montana’s and America’s public lands,” he said, pointing out that the gathering of science and policy experts with media at the TRCP summit could serve as an apt celebration for the end of Montana’s inaugural Open Land Month, established by Bullock’s executive order. “Our state is home to immeasurable opportunities to experience public lands and waterways, which I believe are a great equalizer,” he said. “Whether you’re a CEO or a single mom, you have access to them.”
Bullock, who will serve as governor through 2016, ultimately shared some of his conservation goals for Montana: He supports Congress setting aside partisan politics to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and he’d like to prevent a greater sage-grouse listing with cooperation from a diverse group of stakeholders. And, importantly, he said: “I’ll continue to stand and defend the public lands that Montanans hold so dear.”