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Conservationists want Congress to give as much status for open land as for oil drilling

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Aug 15 2013 06:47:24 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 15 2013 09:14:16 PM MDT

The Equal Ground Campaign Tour kicked off in Missoula.

MISSOULA, Mont. -

A Denver-based conservation group began what it calls its "Road To Equal Ground Campaign Tour" in Missoula.

The Equal Ground Coalition wants Congress to give as much status to protecting open lands as it does to oil drilling.

About half a dozen young conservationists are traveling all over the west  in a van.

The Equal Ground Campaign Tour is gathering stories from conservationists, businesses people, college kids, senior citizens.

"To lend those folks a megaphone," said Equal Ground's Trevor Kincaid, "that Washington can understand not only how important conservation is for recreation and quality of life in places like Montana, but also how important it is to the economy."

Equal Ground said for every acre of development on public land, past administrations balanced it by conserving an acre as public open space.

Kincaid said our last Congress was the first one since World War II that did not create any new open space as a park, wilderness area or national monument.

"It's important that we have domestic energy products," said Kincaid, "but it's also important that we protect our heritage and our legacy of conservation and open space."

"Montana's got the last intact ecosystem in the lower 48," said Sarah Cobler of Montana Conservation Voters.

Cobler said a broad spectrum of Montanans want to maintain that natural environment. But most, if not all of us, depend on oil and gas. It's a balance that a lot of consumers struggle with.

At the gas pump, Roy Barchenger was filling up his tank.

"If we don't start taking care of our natural resources," said Barchenger, "pretty soon they're going to be gone."

Almost everybody we talked to thought it was important to preserve land, and to drill for energy responsibly. But many question whether we need more open public land.

"I think we have a pretty good amount right now," said Carl Maglia.

"Enough of the wilderness has been saved and it's still there," said James Reichelt.

The Equal Ground conservationists have a blueprint for balance, protecting America's public lands for future generations amid the energy boom.

Equal Ground said most public land in the west is currently unprotected, and could be lost, and should not be taken for granted.

Equal Ground's next stop is Bozeman. It will end its tour in New Mexico.