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Can an environmentalist be pro-business too?

I spent much of my adult life working with people fighting over what is left of the original America that Lewis and Clark explored a short 200 years ago. I learned that successful resolution of environmental issues only happened after everyone asked: “How can I protect what I value while protecting what my opponent values?” It requires accepting that we can’t have everything we want and the only way forward is compromise.

I believe the same holds true for how to resolve the ongoing debate over, not only the fate of our public lands, but also the trajectory of development on private lands in the Bitterroot Valley.

We all understand the environment is one of the reasons why we love our Bitterroot Valley home. In my mind, that makes everyone who lives in the Bitterroot Valley an environmentalist. But we all also know that to live here most of us need a job, and that makes everyone who lives in the Bitterroot pro-business. Must we continue to be at odds with coming together to create a future that protects the best of our environment and also grow jobs? It is possible to be an environmentalist and be pro-business at the same time!

We need to look at the environmental assets that make us proud to live here and ask ourselves how we can use and protect these assets in ways that attract outside money as well as sustaining traditional jobs. How can we be more successful in spending our energy in positive ways instead of fighting one another? It’s time for all of us, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents, to become pro-business environmentalists.

This idea is confirmed by University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research that high-tech companies, that pay higher median income salaries, are attracted to Montana because of the environment (Missoulian, March 2, 2018).

A pro-business environmentalist might apply that knowledge and determine what infrastructure we need to attract those companies to locate in Stevensville instead of Missoula. To support these high tech industries and home based businesses, a pro-business environmentalist would demand we start investing in more affordable broad band internet services and training the workforce of the future.

Similarly, preliminary findings released this month by the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, show outdoor recreation, combined with its associated economic activities, are significant contributors to our National GDP. A smart pro-business environmentalist would look at these data and ask what infrastructure investments and policy changes should we make here at home to capitalize on these findings? For example, does our number one environmental asset in the valley, the Bitterroot River, have sufficient protections and public access to turn it into an economic asset as well?

A pro-business environmentalist would look at the skills we have in our traditional timber industry as an asset that we could put to work building a sustainable restoration economy. For example, we could use this expertise to reduce fire risk from future fires on both public and private property in the wildland urban interface, restore forest health and correct damage caused by past management.

We must stop assuming that someone who is an environmentalist is automatically anti-business. In the same vein we also need to stop assuming that someone who is pro-business is opposed to protecting the environment. I believe we can have it both ways. If we work together to build on the strengths of our past and view our environment as an asset as we prepare for the future, it should be possible to grow a new economy for our Valley in the decades to come.

– Margaret Gorski, Stevensville, 406-552-2072, Candidate for HD 88