There are few things that Montanans care for more than our public lands. We live in a state filled with incredible outdoor recreational activities and breathtaking natural wonder. Our state has many treasured places that ought to be protected from unnecessary harm. 

We also live in the real world. And, in the real world, we need to utilize our natural resources to generate heat and light and to power our industries. 

The truth is that there’s a middle ground to be found when it comes to energy development — especially on federal lands. That middle ground will allow future generations to enjoy the great outdoors in our state, while ensuring that workers can find quality, family-sustaining jobs. 

It turns out that the rules in place right now for oil and gas development on federal lands are that middle ground. The rules, put forward by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) back in 2010, allow for responsible development of oil and gas leasing on properties owned by us — the taxpayers. The BLM has established a leasing process that is working right now to both protect our lands and to ensure that the natural resources found on them are able to be developed. The policy formally recognized that there isn’t a preference for oil and gas development over other uses of federal lands and ensures that lands can be used for hunting, fishing, conservation, and other vital activities. 

It’s a smart solution to a difficult problem. And it’s working, but that isn’t good enough for some special interests in Washington, D.C., though. They apparently haven’t heard the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” because the BLM is re-considering the rules in a way that would enshrine oil and gas development as the “dominant” use of our public lands and upend the careful balance that is needed to preserve Montana’s rich hunting, fishing and outdoor traditions. 

The fact of the matter is that we ought to make sure that the things we do on public lands are in the best interest of the people who own it: us, the taxpayers. Not companies, not politicians or political appointees, but, we the people. 

Union members in this state enjoy hunting and fishing and strongly support conservation efforts that will protect our natural world so that future generations can enjoy it like they have. They also understand that our world requires oil and gas — and for that matter other resources like coal — for our economy to thrive. There will always be a trade-off, but if we are going to have this trade-off, let’s make sure we handle oil and gas leasing in the most responsible way possible. 

Our actions will have impacts for generations to come. Let’s make sure what we’re doing has a positive impact. And we can do that by continuing to strive for balance, not energy dominance. Let’s keep BLM’s oil and gas program headed in that direction — to both protect our natural heritage and also grow our economy and create good jobs. It’s the right thing to do.

Quint Nyman and Rex Rogers are co-chairs of the Montana Union Sportsmen Alliance, which engages on issues that aim to protect working Montanans' rights to hunt, fish and recreate in the great outdoors.