I spent a good portion of the afternoon today listening to some High Tech business owners and the CEO of Simms Fishing Products talk about the importance of public lands to their businesses.

After we got through the mush about corporate tax rates and capital gains taxes, there was a lot of discussion about access — access to public lands, and stream access in particular.

KC Walsh, CEO of Simms Fishing Products, said flat out that access to rivers and streams is critical for their business model. States like Utah which are still struggling over allowing its citizens to access their waters have less market share than places like Montana, where our stream access law is the envy of other western states.

It got me thinking about access, the economy and conservation. Montana’s stream access law works on all three levels. Access to those rivers and streams have created an over $350 million per year industry in Montana. Access to those rivers and streams have created thousands of conservation advocates, and access to those river and streams drives both of those important factors. Europe, on the other hand (or if we want to look closer to home, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado) have not figured out that you can have strong access laws in favor of the everyday angler, and still maintain private property rights.

As we all know, in Europe, the game, land, fish and fowl are owned by the landowner. It’s prohibitively expensive to hunt or fish in old Europe and the UK. So much so that when the government came for the guns of British sportsmen and women, they took them easily. There was no “gun behind every blade of grass,” as Admiral Hirohito once warned. We have a gun behind every blade of grass because of the public ownership of wildlife. We have a fishing rod in every house because we have access to our rivers, streams and lakes.

Now, we have vibrant economies built on Access. Access to wildlife, and public lands, is critical in maintaining our outdoor economy nationwide. It was great to hear Tech companies talk about how they recruit new employees by the amenities close by (wouldn’t we all love to live in Whitefish where we can hunt elk, fish for bass and trout, and ski within 15 minutes of our front door?). It was also interesting to see that the data supports conservation of public land as an economic driver.

In a study done by Headwaters Economics, they discovered that western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30% of their public land base conserved in some fashion increased jobs by 34% as compared to areas where less than 10% of federal lands were protected. So what was my take away from this? Access matters. But it’s not just access, its access to public lands, and public lands that contain what people want: clean water, good habitats, and most of all, the ability to afford to recreate on them.

High paying jobs in the service industry (not the local diner or coffee shop) and entrepreneurial spirit is required in the west to make a go out of it. Like most Montanan’s, I work more than one job to make ends meet, and ensure that I have the kind of cash I need to get out and go fish the Beaverhead, or hunt along the Rocky Mountain Front. The local economies that rely on the recreational dollars that are brought into those areas rely on that as well.

It’s a good day when you get to hear that access is critical not only to hunters and anglers, but the businesses that we rely on for our gear.