Our Outdoor Heritage in the Crosshairs
State lawmakers are taking aim at successful state conservation programs
Some lawmakers are once again playing political games with our state lands and conservation programs, jeopardizing critical investments in habitat conservation and public access.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Nearly every session the proponents of privatizing our public lands and wildlife attempt to dismantle state programs that Montana sportsmen and women have built to sustain our outdoor heritage. As part of that effort, they also try to block the state from acquiring new lands. Ironically, many of these legislators are also pushing the agenda that would have the state take over management of 25 million acres of American public lands.
It is time these legislators stop playing political games with our outdoor heritage and restore the spending authority of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), which allows FWP to make critical investments in essential habitat conservation, land acquisition, and public access programs like Habitat Montana.
Here is a list of state programs in the crosshairs, and the dollar amounts legislators are trying to prevent FWP from having the authority to invest in these programs.
- Upland Game Bird program: $849,000
- Habitat Montana program: $10,668,000.
- Big Horn Sheep Habitat program: $460,000.
- Fishing Access Site program: $345,000.
- Migratory Bird Habitat program: $210,000 (proposed legislation would prevent FWP from spending any leftover money on land acquisition)
All in all, the amendments would prevent FWP from investing $12,532,000 in public access, habitat conservation, and land acquisition.
Mind you, these are dollars that sportsmen and women have already paid with the expectation that the money will be spent to improve access and enhance wildlife habitat. For example, the Habitat Montana program – which has protected, and enhanced access to, more than 200,000 acres since it was created in 1987 – uses portions from hunting license revenues to fund habitat protection.
If the legislature is successful in stripping FWP’s spending authority, the money will just go unused and do nothing to “reduce the size of government” or “save the taxpayers money,” as legislators pushing this effort claim will happen.
In truth, they’re not trying to reduce the size of government or save taxpayers money at all by blocking these FWP expenditures; they’re trying to eliminate these successful, popular programs altogether.
On March 25, Rep. David Hagstrom (R-Billings) said as much when he stated, “There are some people who just don’t want the state buying more land, and we want to think about it. I think this will give us the chance to work for the next two years on removing that statutory authority for the state to just continue to accumulate money to buy more land.”
Make no mistake that many of the people behind these efforts to cripple state land management are the same legislators who are driving the unpopular campaign to transfer public lands under the guise that the “state will manage our resources more efficiently.” The effort to eliminate popular FWP public access programs is part of a broader strategy by some legislators to undermine management of our public lands, be it at the state or federal level, so they can justify selling these lands off to the highest bidders. As Rep. Hagstrom suggested, these legislators have no interest in the state owning more land.
Lawmakers still have time to right the course and restore FWP’s spending authority for these programs. The Senate Finance and Claims Committee can make this happen when it considers HB 403, a long-range appropriations bill that originally contained FWP’s spending authority.
Please take a moment to contact members of the committee and ask them to support Montana’s investments in habitat conservation and public access. You can email the entire committee here or leave a voicemail at (406) 444-4800. To see a complete list of committee members, click here.
It is time for our Legislature to do what’s right for our outdoor way of life by restoring the spending authority that FWP needs to protect and sustain that way of life.
-Clayton Elliott, MWA state policy director