More Evidence that Montanans Support Public Lands
A new survey shows broad agreement about the importance of public lands funding
The results of a broad statewide survey are yet more evidence that Montanans strongly support investing more resources into protecting public lands, wildlife habitat, and outdoor access.
Indeed, the results of the survey conducted by the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project show that 93% of respondents - more than 9 in 10 - support increased conservation funding to address major challenges facing Montanan’s land, water, and wildlife. 83% indicated they would support increased funding even if it meant a corresponding increase in state taxes.
The survey, conducted between May and September 2019, was completed by more than 11,100 Montanans, roughly 1% of the state’s population. Respondents came from urban and rural communities, with more than 250 distinct zip codes represented. In addition, ideas and input were collected from community conversations held across the state, from Glendive to Billings to Thompson Falls.
Together, the survey results and community conversations reveal that Montanans are united by our shared values - a belief in the importance of our outdoor heritage, the understanding that our lives and livelihoods are intimately tied to our land, water, and wildlife, the desire to pass our outdoor traditions down to future generations.
In rural communities, participants focused on securing historical access, passing on traditions, and maintaining livelihoods. Urban respondents discussed the value of outdoor recreation with family and friends, and the responsibility we share to take care of our land and water resources for our children and grandchildren.
That’s no surprise to Cole Mannix, a fifth-generation Blackfoot Valley rancher and associate director of the Western Landowner’s Alliance. “Rural or urban, we all depend on Montana’s land and water,” he says. “(These) values can work hand-in-hand.”
Challenges and Priorities
Similarly, respondents shared concerns about the future of our outdoor way of life in the face of a changing Montana. Concerns ranged from loss of historical access to expanding recreational use to an aging public lands infrastructure that doesn’t receive badly needed maintenance. Many respondents in rural communities, particularly in eastern Montana, expressed a desire for increased tourism, while respondents in communities near national parks focused on the challenges of coping with skyrocketing visitation.
Survey participants were also asked to prioritize a list of 10 potential funding opportunities. The highest-rankng priorities were:
- Protecting wildlife habitat (81%)
- Improving water quality (73%)
- Controlling invasive species (69%)
- Improving access to public lands (63%)
- Protecting places to hunt and fish (57%)
Survey results showed broad agreement on the importance of dedicating more funding to protect the working lands, wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities that are central to our Montana way of life.
In addition, respondents were also asked to present ideas for how Montana might increase dedicated funding to protect our outdoor heritage. The responses fell broadly into two categories.
Avoid new financial burdens on Montana residents
Rather than broadly increasing taxes or fees for all state residents, many survey participants expressed support for asking non-residents to shoulder a larger conservation-funding burden.
Suggestions included giving gateway communities more leeway to impose sales taxes on visitors and instituting higher fees for out-of-state homeowners or vacation home users.
Divide the burden more equally among outdoor users
Many respondents also shared the opinion that conservation funding burden falls largely on the shoulders of those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses and suggested the state diversify user revenue. Suggestions included a sales tax on outdoor gear, new user fees or licenses for non-hunting and non-fishing outdoor activities, and expanding the scope of motorized vehicle registration fees.
What Comes Next
The results of the survey make it clear that Montanans see a great need for new funding sources for our land, water, and wildlife, and agree broadly on potential means to secure that funding. Now, it’s time to share these results with citizens, local leaders, and decision makers to explore how to move towards securing the conservation funding necessary to protect Montana’s public lands, wildlife habitat, and outdoor access for the long haul.
If you'd like to learn more, visit www.montanaheritageproject.com.
- Kayje Booker, policy and advocacy director