MWF Shows Up

The Montana Wildlife Federation Advocates to Conserve Wildlife, Protect Habitat and Ensure Access

We sincerely hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during these uncertain times. This is a difficult time for our community, and we are with you as we all navigate our way through this situation. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to develop in Montana and beyond, our hearts go out to those who are experiencing the direct impacts of the virus. While we are cooped up at home MWF will be providing content-rich materials daily. Each day, all of the information we post on social will be available here.

We will dive into why in Montana we have such rich wildlife and outdoor resources and what it takes to keep that viable and moving forward and why it’s an ongoing process. Policy advocacy has always been the core of the Montana Wildlife Federation’s work. Guided by our commitment to the public trust, our dedication to scientific management, and our concern for future generations, we work to promote state and federal policies and decisions that protect Montana’s fish and wildlife, our natural lands and waters, and public access to the outdoors.

We know that conservation doesn’t just happen because people make it happen. It is of great importance to continue the empowerment of grassroots Montanans to speak up on issues and represent our organization’s stance to decision-makers and the public, and take affirmative steps to include everyone who values wildlife and enjoys Montana’s outdoors. MWF is a grassroots organization, built upon shared values, goals, objectives of citizens from all walks of life. MWF is a big tent organization that includes hunters, anglers, trappers, wildlife watchers, photographers, and everyone who values Montana’s fish and wildlife.

Photo by Kyle Mlynar.

Share your thoughts on social media and use the hashtag #MWFShowsUP. We want to thank everyone for the ongoing support. In times of crisis such as this, it’s important that we don’t lose contact with one another. All of us at the Montana Wildlife Federation remains committed to maintaining the connections among the public lands community. Whether you’re a new ally to conservation or a seasoned veteran, we invite you to join us for this exercise in self-reflection, learning, and connection. This isn’t a formal homework assignment; the point is simply to make a habit of doing something every day to broaden your perspective, identify topics for deeper learning on your own, and better equip yourself to become a well-informed advocate for your public lands, wildlife, and public access. Our team will remain fully engaged in the work of protecting Montanas public land, access and wildlife to ensure that Montanans can get outside and enjoy all that Montana has to offer when this crisis passes.

Each day’s content will be added here.

DAY 1: Introduction

Policy advocacy has always been the core of the Montana Wildlife Federation’s work. Guided by our commitment to the public trust, our dedication to scientific management, and our concern for future generations, we work to promote state and federal policies and decisions that protect Montana’s fish and wildlife, our natural lands and waters, and public access to the outdoors. MWF is a grassroots organization, built upon shared values, goals, objectives of citizens from all walks of life, and is a big tent organization that includes hunters, anglers, trappers, wildlife watchers, photographers, and everyone who values Montana’s fish and wildlife. It is of great importance to continue the empowerment of grassroots Montanans to speak up on issues and represent our organization’s stance to decision-makers and the public, and take affirmative steps to include everyone who values wildlife and enjoys Montana’s outdoors.

For decades, the Montana Wildlife Federation has been a leading voice for protecting and enhancing our public wildlife, lands, and access at the Montana Legislature. The 66th Montana Legislative Assembly was a busy one for issues that affect wildlife, habitat, and access for sportswomen and sportsmen, and recreationists. View the links below to check out which bills and issues MWF has covered in the past legislature.

Legislature Passes Bad Bill for Habitat Montana

Capitol Report 2019: Bills and Budgets

Montana State Legislature 

MWF Legislature Update Facebook Video

For questions, contact MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock at ngevock@mtwf.org or by calling 406-458-0227 ext. 108.

DAY 2: Public Lands and Public Process

Guided by our commitment to the public trust, our dedication to scientific management, and our concern for future generations, we work to promote state and federal policies and decisions that protect Montana’s fish and wildlife, our natural lands and waters, and public access to the outdoors.

Our public lands rely on you to be involved in decision-making processes. There are four main departments that manage our public spaces. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park System (NPS), and the United States  Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are three separate agencies that are under the direction of the Department of the Interior (DOI). The last department that manages our public lands, the United States Forest Service (USFS) which is managed by the Department of Agriculture. While each of these agencies overlap in many aspects, their missions and lands they manage do differ slightly. Both the Forest Service and the BLM missions are to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands,” however, the Forest Service is charged with managing national forests and grasslands while the BLM manages public lands outside of that scope. The National Park Service’s mission is to preserve the unimpaired natural and cultural resources of our national parks and national monuments. Last, but not least, the Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with protecting fish and wildlife populations for the benefit of future generations while also managing our system of national wildlife refuges.

  • Every department has a process for how the public engages in deciding the management of these lands. For the BLM there are a few opportunities to get involved. Anyone is allowed to apply for a seat on the RAC (Resource Advisory Council).
  • Resource Management Plan Processes: The public has the opportunity to get involved throughout the planning process.
  • To learn more about each agency take at a look at this blog by NOLS.
  • Spotlight: Lewistown: How the Public Got Involved

The Lewistown Resource Management Plan process is now in its final stage. The protest period has ended and the Record of Decision (ROD) should be released in the next few months. Take a look at the Lewistown process to see how the public got involved.

https://montanawildlife.org/lewistownrmp/

DAY 3: What’s good for wildlife is good for people

What’s good for wildlife is good for people. Conservation ethics and scientific management are essential to maintaining the abundance of Montana’s fish and wildlife. Protecting Montana’s natural lands, clean waters, and quality wildlife habitat is good for the well-being of people, communities, our economy, and our environment. The Montana Wildlife Federation supports efforts to protect all of Montana’s wildlife, including native species, desirable introduced species, communities, and ecosystems. Hunters, anglers, and trappers must be committed to fair-chase ethics, safety, and skill in their recreational pursuits. 

This web mapping application by Trout Unlimited presents layers supporting Trout Unlimited’s energy development assessment for Montana. Users can narrow the focus of the map based on native trout presence, Red/Blue ribbon trout stream presence, modeled stream temperature, or oil and gas potential. 

Anaconda Sportsman’s Club has been involved in conservation since 1948. This video tells the story of the Anaconda Sportsman’s Club and Montana Wildlife Federation decades of work on behalf of Montanans, public lands, and conservation.

Day 4- Gardening for Wildlife

In these stressful times, it’s more important than ever to carve out some ”green time,” and gardening for wildlife is a great way to do so.  Since 1973, the Garden for Wildlife program has empowered people to invite wildlife back into their neighborhoods by converting their gardens, both large and small, urban and rural, into habitat for local pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Every habitat garden is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife throughout Montana’s watersheds, forests, and urban areas. You can plant a natural buffet to attract beautiful birds, bees, and butterflies to our yards and balconies. Even a small space, with the right plants or supplemental feeders, will invite colorful wildlife.

Here are some Garden for Wildlife® tips for creating healthy, beautiful spaces that can get you and your family outside. 

1) Source seeds from last year’s native plantings and start more plants to expand your garden area or share with neighbors.

2) Explore local options for delivery or curbside pickup from local Native Plant Societies, Native Nurseries and Independent Garden Centers who are stocked up for spring. For supplier ideas in your region, check out listings on these Eco-Regional plant lists.

3) Order from online seed and plant distributors that are implementing CDC guidelines that provide native plants or non-GMO treated seed. In addition, they recommend wiping down packaging upon arrival and washing your hands after opening the shipment.

The Montana Wildlife Federation is teaming up with the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program to transform backyards, school grounds, places of worship, businesses, and community spaces in Billings into Certified Wildlife Habitats. Since 1973, the Garden for Wildlife program has empowered people to invite wildlife back into their neighborhoods by converting their gardens, both large and small, urban and rural, into habitat for local pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Every habitat garden is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife throughout Montana’s watersheds, forests, and urban areas.

Garden for Wildlife is a national program started by the National Wildlife Federation 45 years ago. The program has more than 200 Certified Community Wildlife Habitats throughout the nation and has made an impact on over 150 million acres of suburban and urban habitat.

Given the current climate crisis and the significant decline in species diversity in the past few years, the Montana Wildlife Federation found it pertinent to start engaging Montana’s citizens to help make the biggest city in the state more wildlife-friendly. 

In order to certify Billings as a Community Wildlife Habitat, we need to get over 400 certification points. Points are obtained by creating certified wildlife habitats in different places throughout the city.

At home gardens – 1 point | Public Spaces – 3 points | Schools – 5 points 

A wildlife habitat needs to meet certain qualifications in order to be eligible for certification. Each wildlife habitat needs food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. To see a full checklist of what is needed to certify your garden.

Check out our Billings community and the progress we have made toward certifying!

Our garden for wildlife program has an outreach team that will resume meeting monthly once this crisis has passed to talk about strategies and plans for the success of the program. Interested in joining our outreach team? Email our Eastern Montana Field Coordinator at mpetrich@mtwf.org

DAY 5: Let’s get our Kids Outside

Let’s get our kids outside and teach the next generation valuable lessons about stewardship. With schools, offices, and public spaces close around the country families are spending more time together and at home. Let’s stay entertained, engaged and local while learning about the natural world around us.

Here are a few suggestions:

Daily Get Outside Challenge: Montana Audubon Center 

Take a ten-minute walk around your house or down your street and see what birds you can identify! Download the Merlin Bird ID app to help identify the birds you see!

 New Mexico Wildlife Federation Nature Ninos backyard nature classes.

Through the end of June, the National Wildlife Federation has made the Ranger Rick website free to all visitors.

Here is a great list of activities by the National Wildlife Federation to do with the kids.

While going outside, it is important to do so responsibly. Let’s lead by example and follow social distancing guidelines. It is also important to choose activities that you have the skillset to support and doing activities at a lower intensity level than normal.

DAY 6: Protect Habitat

Montana’s public lands are of primary importance in providing fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreational opportunity. Undeveloped, unroaded, and backcountry areas are especially important for protecting security habitat and recreational opportunity. Private lands also provide essential fish and wildlife habitat, including well-managed farming, ranching, logging, and other land uses, as well as hunting opportunity. The West is home to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem also known as the sagebrush sea.

This habitat and the species it supports are extremely sensitive to the impacts of development and climate change. To the untrained eye, the sagebrush ecosystem might not seem as impressive as other quintessential Montana landscapes but once you learn about the plants and animals of this region you might change your mind.

Here are a few helpful links worth checking out.

 Big Sagebrush Steppe- Montana Field Guide

The Sagebrush Sea

Sagebrush Steppe- National Wildlife Federation 

If you have kids at home some of these links might be helpful to teach your kids about the sagebrush sea ecosystem!

Sagebrush Steppe Poster Lesson Plan

Rockie’s Sagebrush Adventures

AUDUBON ROCKIES: EXPLORE THE SAGEBRUSH ECOSYSTEM

DAY 7: Grassroots Engagement


Since our founding in 1936, the Montana Wildlife Federation has been a membership organization of everyday people who want to fight for Montana’s natural heritage. Our strength comes from a diverse membership base of people who spend time outdoors enjoying Montana’s abundant fish and wildlife resources and the solitude of backcountry wild lands and waters. We fight to protect the places and animals we love, and we work to give everyone a seat at the table and a voice in conservation and management of public resources.

How to Write a Letter to the Editor (LTE)

First of all, what is an LTE? An LTE is a Letter to the Editor that you submit to your local newspaper regarding an issue you care about. LTEs reach a lot of people, especially in rural areas, they can bring up non-commonplace information, and are sometimes monitored by local officials. Writing a thoughtful LTE is a great way we can make big impacts in our community.

  • Keep your LTE short (about 200 words)

  • Stick to one topic and try not to get off track

  • Base your statements off of evidence

  • Be respectful and relatable

  • Reference previous articles

  • Propose a solution or include a call to action

  • Include your contact information

  • Have someone proofread your letter

How to write a comment

Writing comments can be intimidating. When non-profits and action-based organizations ask for comments on government processes that tend to have 1,000-page documents with ample unknown abbreviations and legal language, it is hard to know where to start and to feel qualified to comment. Anyone and everyone is qualified. It is great if you are an expert or a professional conservationist, but there is no requirement to be one! Comments can be 100 pages long with intricate details, scientific evidence, and legal jargon, or they can be a few sentences explaining why you value hunting in a specific area or that you want to protect a place where you enjoy hiking or bird watching- the most important thing is that you tell your story. Personal comments give reasons for agencies to care about a place just as we do. Tell the agency who you are, where you are from, and how these big decisions impact your life. 

Contact someone who can help you write a letter or a comment. Our staff here at MWF are happy to help you craft the perfect LTE.

For Western Montana issues contact eclewis@mtwf.org

For Eastern Montana issues contact mpetrich@mtwf.org

Day 8:Meet the MWF Affiliates

  

The Montana Wildlife Federation has a grassroots network of local affiliated clubs around Montana. These affiliates are independent organizations that help identify conservation needs and rally local hunters, anglers, and other conservationists to take action. For more information on how to get involved with an affiliate in your area, contact Marcus Strange, Program and Partnership Director, Montana Wildlife Federation mstrange@mtwf.org or check out the affiliate page and join your local affiliate.

Our affiliate, Bridger Bowmen is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and sharing archery as a whole and to helping other conservation organizations in Montana.

Anaconda Sportsman’s Club has been involved in conservation since 1948. This video tells the story of the Anaconda Sportsman’s Club and Montana Wildlife Federation decades of work on behalf of Montanans, public lands, and conservation.

 

Hellgate Hunters and Anglers’ mission is to conserve Montana’s wildlife, wild places, and fair chase hunting and fishing heritage.

Day 9: Confronting Climate Change

  

The Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) will continue its commitment to act on climate change to protect wildlife and the future of hunting and fishing. A while back, MWF Federal Conservation Campaigns Director Alec Underwood sat down with Emerger Strategies to talk about MWF’s climate work. “Though I think most anglers understand that climate change is an issue, I wish that all anglers knew just how big an issue it is and what’s at stake. Climate change is something that will have the potential to completely wipe out some fisheries over time, especially given its impacts on thermally suitable habitat for cold water species. Some studies have even projected that there will be a loss of 70-80% of trout habitat in some areas of the U.S. by mid to late century. We can’t just sit around and let that happen.”

The Sustainable Angler: Alec Underwood from Montana Wildlife Federation

Alec Underwood, federal conservation campaigns director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, joined the National Wildlife Federation Outdoors Podcast in 2019 to discuss how climate change is affecting fishing and hunting in Montana, the public land wildlife impacts of the federal administration’s energy dominance agenda, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act and how it’s brought together diverse interests to support a conservation initiative.

Additional Resources:

CLIMATE CHANGE ENDANGERS MONTANA’S OUTDOOR HERITAGE AND ECONOMY

Climate Change Infographics

Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Initiative

National Wildlife Federation Outdoors

RepYourWater

Montana Wilderness Association

Day 10: Supporting Wild Birds at Home

  

As we all spend our days huddled together in our homes, birds throughout North America are working tirelessly to make their way to their breeding grounds or are becoming more active after a long Montana winter. Many of you may have already noticed the increase in bird activity and the familiar, yet new, bird songs and calls filling the air. So as we sit in our homes and walk our neighborhoods and trails, let’s be mindful of the never-ending movement of nature and take a moment to learn about the birds that fill our public lands and even our own backyards. We will be posting about various common bird species you will have either noticed already or will be seeing as spring progresses in addition to various bird conservation actions/priorities in Montana. So grab your kids, or dogs, and start peeking out your windows and stop to look up occasionally when hiking your favorite trails. 

Birds need our help. Since 1970, the North American bird population has lost almost 3 billion breeding adults, a loss of 29 percent over just fifty years. The good news is that we can restore habitat for many bird species in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods—starting in right in our own yards and gardens.

The following resources are great for identifying birds in your own backyard and along your local trails:

  • Merlin Bird ID app (this app is great for identifying a bird in a step by step format to guide you to the right species)
  • Audubon Field Guide app (this app will give a greater amount of detail on the life history of each species you encounter)
  • The Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (this book may be harder to use than an app but the detailed descriptions and life history descriptions are of the highest quality)
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Western Region (another book that has great life history descriptions and pictures of birds all over the western U.S.)

Day 11: Protecting Public Access

  

ENSURING YOUR RIGHT TO HUNT, FISH, AND ENJOY THE OUTDOORS

Montana has some of the highest quality outdoor resources in the nation in addition to the longest hunting seasons in the West. However, wildlife managers often face pressure to manage game animals and recreation for private profit. Too often the public’s access is closed off by people who illegally block public roads and stream access points. This directly conflicts with the nature and mission of public lands and the public trust doctrine of wildlife. MWF fights to protect public access and recreational opportunities for everyone, not just special interests.

KEEPING PUBLIC ROADS OPEN TO PUBLIC LANDS

Montana hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts depend on public roads to legally access public land and streams. Unfortunately, cases of public lands and stream access points being closed off by private interests occur all too frequently. MWF works to locate these access points and work with officials to reopen these areas so that Montanans can legally access our lands and waters.

PROTECTING PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF WILDLIFE

The public trust doctrine of wildlife management in North America states that wildlife is property of the people of the United States, to be held, in trust, by state governments for the benefit of the resources themselves and the public. That doctrine is a core tenet of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and an essential part of what makes Montana such a great place to live and recreate in. MWF works to prevent special interests from taking ownership of wildlife away from the public while defending the authority of wildlife managers to rely on sound science and not private profits.

SUPPORTING ACCESS INCENTIVES FOR PRIVATE LANDOWNERS

The great public lands that Montanans hold in high regard make up only about one-third of our state’s land base. Private land still makes up the largest portion of our state and therefore holds the utmost importance for wildlife management. Additionally, private lands have some of the best hunting and fishing in the state. MWF supports programs, such as Black Management, that give financial assistance to landowners who provide public access and manage for wildlife habitat.

Day 12: Keeping the Badger-Two Medicine Wild

  

The Badger-Two Medicine is a wild landscape that holds historical, cultural, ecological, and religious significance to the people of Montana. Because of the high value of the Badger-Two Medicine Area, public and private interests have repeatedly come together to protect this vitally-important national resource and this time is no different. Alongside all those who value the Badge-Two Medicine, sportsmen will continue to advocate for the permanent protection of the Badger.

Read about the fight to protect this sacred wildland and how the Montan Wilderness Association, the Blackfeet TribeGlacier-Two Medicine Alliance and conservation partners are currently exploring options for permanently protecting this area.

Day 13: Grizzly Bear Advisory Council

  

Photo by Thomas Lipke.

Montana Wildlife Federation Conservation Director Nick Gevock is among the 18 Montanans chosen by Gov. Steve Bullock to serve on the Grizzly Bear Advisory Council to help guide future management of our state animal.

“I’m thrilled to help bring the perspective of hunters, wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists to the grizzly council,” Gevock said. “This council is a chance to bring together Montanans from diverse perspectives to address the very real challenges of managing an expanding grizzly bear population.”

Bullock announced the council makeup recently after moving several months ago to create it. The group consists of farmers and ranchers, conservation interests, timber representatives and hunters. Its charge is to work to come up with innovative ways to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears and shape the future management of this valued native wildlife species.

Grizzly bears are Montana’s state mammal and were put on the federal Endangered Species Act list in 1975. More than four decades later, grizzlies have dramatically expanded their numbers and range in both the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem populations. The grizzly bear populations in both of these areas have met the threshold to remove ESA protections for them, but last year a federal judge blocked the delisting in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

At the same time, grizzlies have dramatically expanded their range and are now found in many valleys, where they come into contact with homes, farms and ranches, livestock and crops. The spread of grizzlies has led to conflicts in some areas where they’ve shown up for the first time in decades.

The council is set to meet eight times in the next year to make recommendations. Its specific charge includes enhancing human safety, ensuring a healthy grizzly population, improving response to grizzly conflicts, engaging all partners in outreach and conflict prevention, and improving coordination between government agencies and with tribal partners.

“MWF and the National Wildlife Federation, as well as many other interests, have for several years been working on preventive measures that protect livestock, grizzlies, and people by reducing conflicts,” Gevock said. “I’m confident that the council can continue to build on that work and other measures that make a difference for people and bears, and I’m eager to get started.”

For more information, go to http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/grizzlyBear/gbac.html.

Engage and Comment:

The Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council welcomes input from the public. Any comments provided here will be available for viewing by all members of the Council. Comments will also be posted publicly on the GBAC webpage regularly.

The next Remote Conference with live-stream online is April 24, 1PM – 4PM.

Day 14: Sage Grouse Conservation

  

When snow blankets vegetation in the foothills and mountains, big game animals like mule deer, elk and pronghorn depend on sagebrush lands, the same habitat that sustains greater sage-grouse. Wildlife biologists point out that healthy habitat is key for healthy wildlife populations. For sportsmen and women who roam sagebrush country each fall, the connection between sage-grouse and other wildlife is clear. They know what’s good for the bird is good for the herd. That’s why they want to conserve sage-grouse and their habitat.

Once numbering in the tens of millions, sage-grouse populations today have decreased drastically as a result of development and habitat loss.

In recent years, the sage-grouse was proposed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. A historic conservation effort across 11 Western states is helping reverse the decline and keep the species from becoming endangered. That effort is threatened by politicians who want to hijack the sage-grouse conservation plans and transfer control of public land to states.

Sagebrush Steppe: Good for Sage-Grouse, Mule Deer, and People

The sage-grouse depends on large expanses of healthy sagebrush steppe. This habitat dominates much of the West’s countryside, thriving in the arid deserts through dry, hot summers and cold winters. The sagebrush is one of the dominant plants in the steppe and provides food and shelter for many species. Besides the sage-grouse, the sagebrush steppe provides habitat for 350 other species including mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk, and numerous nongame animals. These lands also provide a significant public opportunity for hunting and other recreational activities like hiking, biking, and camping.

States & Federal Government Work Together to Protect Sage-Grouse

In order to keep sage-grouse off of the Endangered Species List, Western states and the federal government worked together to conserve the species and its habitat. The ten states in sage-grouse country adopted plans at the state-level to adopt conservation actions on private and state land and provide funding to protect habitat private land. At the same time, the federal sage-grouse plan was created to establish protections for the species on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands.

The state and federal plans were written through an unprecedented effort by land managers, conservationists, hunters, landowners, and other stakeholders to work together and find common ground. This coordinated effort being fully implemented was key to the Department of Interior’s determination that the sage-grouse did not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.

Needed Now: Implementing the State & Federal Sage-Grouse Plans

The State of Montana is leading on many aspects of sage-grouse conservation on private and state trust land. However, the state plan does not account for the roughly 35 percent of sage-grouse habitat that is on federal public lands. Sage-grouse conservation is not an either-or choice between federal plans or the state plans: it will take aggressive effort and full funding for both state and federal plans in order to succeed.

Additional Resources

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Sagebrush

Celebrating Sagebrush: The West’s Most Important Native Plant

Conserve our Western Roots by NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative

Why roots matter

Conservation Organizations Come Together to Protect the Grouse

Day 15: Land and Water Conservation Fund

 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been one of our nation’s most successful conservation programs. The program puts aside a portion of federal revenue from offshore oil and gas leasing to fund land conservation. Over the last 50 years, the LWCF has played a crucial role in protecting habitat and opening up public access.

Since 1964, the LWCF has resulted in billions of dollars in spending nationwide, protecting everything from backcountry national forest lands to urban parks. Montana has received over $600 million in funding from LWCF. These funds have protected important lands in the Blackfoot Valley, on the Rocky Mountain Front, in the Greater Yellowstone region, and all over the state. LWCF funds have also been used to acquire key parcels that open up large areas of “land-locked” public land for hunting and fishing.

Now more than ever, Montanans understand the importance of our open spaces and having access to our public lands and waters that provide us solace during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although LWCF was permanently reauthorized in 2019, there is still a need to secure full and dedicated funding. Currently, the Great American Outdoors Act that was introduced to Congress would fully fund LWCF.  MWF will continue to encourage Congress to swiftly pass the Great American Outdoors Act to protect the health of our communities and local economies.

Chris Anderson, of Laurel, is an avid sportsman and member of MWF affiliate, Laurel Rod and Gun Club.

 

DAY 16: What is a Forest Plan?

What is a forest plan?

A forest plan is a document that sets the overall direction and general management actions for each national forest across the United States. These plans are specific to each forest and guide all management on a forest-wide scale. For example, these plans will not spell out the exact location to put a trail but will recommend areas that may be appropriate for that form of recreation. So it might be good to leave one area untouched whereas another may be perfect for a campground. These plans are supposed to be assessed and revised every 15 years under the National Forest Management Act, though this rarely happens on time.

In 2012, the U.S. Dept of Agriculture released a planning rule that required national forests to develop new forest plans that are citizen-based (meaning that you, the citizen, has an active role in the planning process) and driven by the most current science. So currently, many forests in Montana have undergone or are undergoing the revision process. 

The Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Plan Revision

Currently, this plan revision is a crucial step in its development. This step is the comment period on something called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This is a document that lists the environmental impacts that changes in land management will have on the forest. A comment period is essentially a time in which anyone interested in this planning process, including citizens, may submit comments on this process. This document weighs the outcomes of various alternatives that are proposed to guide management as we move forward

These alternatives range from recommending intensive timber harvest to recommending new wilderness areas. Wilderness designations are specifically the topic that impacts Montanans the most.

The Great Burn or Hoodoo roadless area is a portion of a large roadless area that reaches across state lines and is found in both Montana and Idaho. In Montana, this region is already listed as a recommended wilderness area. In Idaho, however, many of the alternatives I briefly discussed earlier DO NOT list this entire area as recommended wilderness. Approximately 150,000 acres in Idaho have the potential to either become recommended wilderness or lose its chance at attaining that status. This could directly impact the quality of the recommended wilderness in Montana by:

  1. Allowing non-conforming uses to spill over from Idaho into Montana.
  2. Degrade pristine wildlife habitat through increased human disturbance.2w Z

A non-conforming use is one that would not be allowed within a wilderness area and can keep specific areas from ever becoming a wilderness. Activities such as motorized and mechanical recreation are considered non-conforming.

Additionally, these areas house populations of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, and the potential for grizzly bears. Each of these species has been shown to suffer negative impacts in the presence of increased human disturbance.

It is for these reasons that recommending the entirety of the Great Burn as wilderness (in both Idaho and Montana) is of vital importance. Wildlife does not respect political boundaries and will freely travel between Montana and Idaho. These large, undisturbed, contiguous tracts of land provide a secure habitat for wildlife to flourish. Montanans have a long history of placing our wildlands and wildlife high on our list of priorities. So we urge you to look beyond Montana to see what neighboring states are doing and to think about how that can change our way of life here.

As of today, MWF has submitted a list of comments to guide the forest service in this process. The comment period for this phase of the forest plan revision closes Monday but it isn’t too late to get involved. Be sure to also check out the Montana Wilderness Association’s action page to see the amazing work they have completed during this revision process and add your voice to the voice for conservation.

Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or the Montana Wildlife Federation to learn how you can get involved and be a voice for wildlife in Montana. Our job is to advocate for wildlife and wildlife enthusiasts and we would love to hear from you about issues that are important to you.

Below are links to the current forest plan documents as well as a citizen’s guide to the forest plan revision process and a link to the Montana Wilderness Associations action page for the Great Burn Wilderness.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd509144.pdf

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nezperceclearwater/landmanagement/planning/?cid=fseprd682962

https://p2a.co/2IAh8tf

https://www.backcountryhunters.org/montana_take_action_nez_perce_clearwater_forest_plan_revision?fbclid=IwAR2I6yEa4zaR3_l1KH96-ttO9xWStFfi1xXOLGB7KTMlX3IpDc85KHJXyj4

DAY 17: Recovering America's Wildlife Act

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be good for wildlife and for people. By supporting early intervention to conserve wildlife before they reach the brink of extinction, it would reduce the cost to taxpayers and the regulatory burdens on farmers, ranchers, and other resource users. The bill enjoys broad support from conservation organizations, the energy industry, businesses, and wildlife managers. Like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act enjoys broad, bipartisan support. The bill has more than a hundred cosponsors, including both Republicans and Democrats, from all over the country.

Many people have never heard of two of the most important conservation laws of the 20th century: the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 and the Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Act of 1950. But hunters and anglers know these laws well, since they have provided the foundation for game and sportfish conservation for decades. Under P-R and D-J (as the laws are known), the federal excise taxes on guns, ammunition, archery equipment, and fishing gear are dedicated to conserving fish and wildlife and providing access for the public to enjoy the resources. These dollars are kept out of the federal budget, helping ensure that wildlife management avoids the dysfunction that plagues our political system.

Passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act was one of the National Wildlife Federation’s first major accomplishments, and the Montana Wildlife Federation was there from day one. We also helped pass Dingell-Johnson Act as well.

Just like the hunting license model at the state level, Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson embody a “user-pays” system in which hunters and anglers finance wildlife management. Over the last 80+ years, these programs have provided the foundation for the recovery and management of our most treasured game and sportfish species. From mule deer to pronghorn to cutthroat trout – animals that were on the brink of extinction a century ago are now abundant.

While many hunters and anglers know that their excise tax dollars go into Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson, the programs are not well known to the general public. In addition, because Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson are funded by taxes on hunters and anglers, Americans who don’t hunt and fish aren’t contributing to the program’s work to protect our wildlife heritage. Hunters and anglers are shouldering almost the entire burden of funding wildlife management. While most of us are glad to do so, we can’t do it alone – and we shouldn’t have to.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (HR 3742) would build upon – and expand – the success of this model by dedicating $1.4 billion of federal funding to conserve at-risk species, which are primarily the non-game fish and wildlife that currently lack adequate funding.  This bold legislation presents an opportunity to build the “third leg” of the American wildlife conservation funding system: providing a way for all Americans to support wildlife conservation alongside hunters and anglers.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is the direct result of a recommendation from a  Blue Ribbon Panel that included leaders from hunting organizations, other conservation groups, wildlife agencies, businesses, and even the oil and gas industry.  Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks would see more than $29 million in new funding as a result of this program.

If conservationists, wildlife managers, the oil and gas industry, and outdoor businesses can find common ground, our political leaders should be able to take action to adopt their recommendations. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was introduced by Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) and 60 cosponsors of both parties.  That unprecedented about of bipartisan support speaks to how important this issue is.

We need to act now to carry the legacy of Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson into the next century and enact dedicated funding to prevent all of our wildlife from becoming endangered.

Additional Resources: 

An Act of Finding Common Ground

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Day 18: Capitol Wildlife Report

Montana Capitol

Montana Capitol. Photo credit: Mark Dostal

For decades, the Montana Wildlife Federation has been a leading voice for protecting and enhancing our public wildlife, lands, and access at the Montana Legislature. MWF works in the public arena to involve people in decisions that affect our natural resources, including legislative and administrative processes at the state and federal level. Information, collaboration, and the democratic process are key tools for creating equitable, effective, and durable solutions to natural resource issues and conflicts.

Every session, literally dozens of bills affecting our core issues come forward every year. In addition, MWF and our partners bring positive bills that work to conserve our wildlife, protect habitat, and increase public access. 

Check out the MWF bill tracker for updates on bills during our legislative session when the 67th Montana Legislative Assembly convenes. MWF will put up every bill that affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, public access, scientific wildlife management, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s budget, and more. MWF will keep a close eye on every bill and work diligently to keep Montana’s hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts well informed. 

Additional Resources: 

Capitol Wildlife Report 2017

Capitol Report 2019: Bills and Budgets

Montanans Turn Out to Show Support for Public Wildlife

Join Our Legislative Action Team

For questions, contact MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock at ngevock@mtwf.org or by calling 406-458-0227 ext. 108

Day 19: Legislative Action Team

Montana hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts who want the latest updates on bills during our legislative session have access to a tool that provides regular updates and calls to action. 

The Montana Wildlife Federation’s Legislative Action Team is the best way to stay informed as key bills affecting wildlife, habitat, and public access move through the Legislature. MWF built up the LAT last session, and we’re still adding to our list of citizen-advocates. 

That’s important because every legislative session presents its challenges – and opportunities – for sportsmen and sportswomen in Montana. Through our strong grassroots organizing and strong work with our conservation partners, we’ve been able to secure some significant wins in recent years. 

That includes protecting our best conservation and public access program, Habitat Montana. It includes revamping our hunting and fishing licenses to keep Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks financially sound. And it includes beating back bills that take wildlife management away from FWP and give it to the Legislature. 

That’s just a sample. Every session, literally dozens of bills affecting our core issues come forward every year. In addition, MWF and our partners bring positive bills that work to conserve our wildlife, protect habitat, and increase public access. 

We also work diligently through the interim between sessions by attending committees, speaking up at every Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, and working with our strong coalitions of conservation groups to get things done. 

Now is a great time to join the MWF Legislative Action Team. During the session, we give multiple updates each week and wrap up how things went. Please join today and become part of the most effective team for wildlife in Montana. 

Day 20: Elk Management

The process of developing a new Montana elk management plan is underway. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are in the process of writing a new statewide elk management plan, and we want them to hear from us. Elk management is one of the most contentious issues in Montana. Farmers, ranchers, and other private landowners have concerns about crop and fence damage, and about the potential for disease transmission to livestock.  Hunters have concerns with a loss of elk on public lands and ultimately less hunting opportunity. While some hunting units are over objective, many hunters also report problems getting to elk and having the opportunity to hunt them. FWP has tried to find solutions that balance different stakeholder interests, but there is more that needs to be done.  In order to inform ongoing management deliberations, the Montana Wildlife Federation is seeking input from Montana hunters. Speak up and take the Montana Elk Management Survey

Additional Resources

Elk Management in Montana 

Hunters Must Speak Up on Elk Management

Legislature Begins the War on Elk

Day 21: Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act


Resulting from over a dozen years of collaboration between conservation, recreation and timber groups, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) would permanently protect critical tributaries to the Blackfoot River in addition to approximately 79,000 thousand acres of public lands containing some of the highest quality wildlife habitat in Montana. Additionally, the BCSA would create new opportunities for motorized and non-motorized recreation and utilizes local timber companies to provide habitat services in the form of selective logging to improve wildlife habitat while stimulating the local economy.

A recent poll by the University of Montana shows continued strong support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, with 75% of voters supporting the legislation and the collaborative efforts to protect wildlife habitat, recreational access, and timber jobs.  

Senator Jon Tester reintroduced the BCSA in June of 2019 to complete the full implementation of the project. With over 130 diverse groups, businesses, and organizations across the state in support of the legislation, it’s easy to see that Montanans care deeply about protecting our pristine public lands and the recreational opportunities that exist on them. To learn more about the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act or how you can support it, visit http://blackfootclearwater.org/, or contact MWF staffer Eric Clewis at eclewis@mtwf.org

Additional Resources:

Senator Tester Reintroduces the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act will be a win for anglers and the Blackfoot River

Day 22: Clean. Drain. Dry

In 2016 Montana’s world-renowned rivers and cold water fisheries experienced record low flows and extremely high temperatures. This threatening combination caused hoot owl closures that began in June and contributed to the unprecedented closure of 183 miles of the Yellowstone River in August.

Constant hoot owl closures and the Yellowstone die-off foreshadows the threat of climate change to Montana’s outdoor heritage. That’s why MWF teamed up with the Invasive Species Action Network to discuss and demonstrate ways boaters and anglers can protect Montana’s fisheries as our climate changes. It’s all our responsibility to create good boat and gear cleaning habits to keep Montana’s rivers and fisheries some of the best in the world. Check out the video and links below.

Protect Montana Waters

The three steps of Clean, Drain, Dry greatly minimizes the risk of spreading Aquatic Invasive Species into new locations. Find out what you can do, where the inspection stations are, and more information on the certified boater program. The Invasive Species Action Network (ISAN) is dedicated to reducing the human-caused spread of invasive species and provides solutions to invasive species problems by focusing on scientific research, education programs, and policy development. 

Invasive Species Action Network

Aquatic Nuisance Species- Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks information website on the different aquatic nuisance species and the steps you can take to prevent the expansion of those species.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Impacts of Aquatic invasive species- Learn more about how the environment, economy, recreation, tourism, and humans are all impacted by the introduction of aquatic invasive species.

Impacts of Aquatic Invasive Species

Preventing the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species- Learn how to protect Montana’s waters through interactive videos that show how to CLEAN, DRAIN, AND DRY your boat or gear, to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Preventing the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species

Day 23: Habitat Montana has Decades of Success

Montana would look a lot different for our native wildlife, for hunters and anglers, and for everyone who enjoys wildlife in our great state if we didn’t have the Habitat Montana program. 

Founded in the 1980s, Habitat Montana takes a small portion of the fees from hunting licenses and uses it to protect vital wildlife habitat. It does that through conservation easements with willing landowners and through targeted purchases of key habitat on winter range for big game. And it benefits not only game species because these areas are crucial for all kinds of native wildlife species, including small mammals, raptors, and songbirds. 

Habitat Montana’s footprint over the years has exceeded 850,000 acres of land through easements and purchases. These lands include our system of Wildlife Management Areas, which are targeted toward vitally important areas for big game in winter when they need forage. And the private ranchlands protected also provide important winter habitat while keeping working ranches in operation. 

The program is so successful because it’s used as seed money to bring in matching federal and private conservation dollars to have a larger footprint. To make these lands deal happen, it takes that reliable source of state-based seed money. That’s why Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks worked with the hunters of Montana in the eighties to get the program off the ground. 

Finally, Habitat Montana provides access. A lot of access. These lands offer excellent hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching. And they open up tens of thousands of acres of additional public lands that in many cases were inaccessible. 

The Montana Wildlife Federation was supportive of Habitat Montana from its inception, and for well over three decades we’ve been there to protect and enhance this sterling program. Let’s hope it can have decades more conservation successes so future generations can enjoy our wildlife heritage. 

Day 24: Lead-Free MT

MWF knows that hunters care about wildlife like no one else and they have shown a willingness to do the right thing in defense of wildlife. In Montana, we are seeing too many occurrences of our wildlife becoming critically ill due to lead poisoning, contracted from consuming lead left in gut piles. While this is an unintentional repercussion of hunting with lead ammunition, the impact can be mitigated when hunters switch to lead-free alternatives. We are asking you to join us in our Lead-Free MT initiative by taking the MWF Non-Lead Pledge. By taking the MWF Non-Lead Pledge you agree to help wildlife and your fellow Montanans by:
  • Only use lead-free ammunition, such as steel or copper, when hunting.

  • Where possible, practice at established ranges so lead on the landscape is confined to specific, manageable areas.

  • Help to educate others on the benefits of hunting with lead-free ammunition by sharing your knowledge and experience.

While these steps may seem simple, the positive effects they will have can not be understated. It is our role to stand up for the wildlife that can’t stand up for itself. Stand up for Montana’s wildlife today by taking the MWF Non-Lead Pledge HERE. Together we can support our wildlife and each other by creating a lead-free Montana.

DAY 25: Wildlife Migrations

Wildlife need room to roam: the ability to move between winter range, summer range, calving areas, and other important habitats. The need for migratory connections is even greater as wildlife face a mounting number of ecological changes. Loss of winter habitat, drier summers, invasive species, and habitat loss and fragmentation pose a growing number of conservation challenges. With increasing pressure on wildlife habitats and corridors comes the growing need to protect these routes and the wildlife that utilize them. Hunt to Eat, Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF), MWF, and Wyoming Wildlife Federation (WWF) support and work toward policies that promote conservation, restoration, and reconnection of habitat across public and private lands, connecting protected areas while also keeping working farms, ranches, and other traditional uses on the land.

Striving to improve and maintain wildlife’s ability to seasonally migrate, IWF, MWF, and WWF understand that habitat restoration and protection along with collaborative efforts on working lands will allow wildlife to continue their borderless lifestyles.

Additional Resources:

Wyoming Migration Initiatives

Wyoming Mule Deer Migrations 

Conservation News: Wildlife Migration Corridors, Idaho Salmon, Climate Change

Incredible Journeys

Our Work With Wildlife 

DAY 26: Montana Bird Conservation Partnership

The Montana Bird Conservation Partnership (MBCP) is a partnership of many organizations all focused on bird conservation at both a state and regional level. The MBCP’s primary focus is on implementing four national initiatives:

1. Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan
2. U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan
3. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas
4. North American Waterfowl Management Plan

These plans are all part of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). This initiative works to protect birds across North America, and the MBCP fights to ensure Montana is at the forefront of bird conservation work. To learn more about collaborative bird conservation programs, check out the MBCP webpage.

Day 27: MWF 2019 Voting Record

The Montana Wildlife Federation has for decades put out a voting record on key bills that came up during the Legislative session. View the 2019 version.

MWF and our conservation partners saw some significant wins this past session on our key issues. That includes protecting Habitat Montana; the budget for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and on bills protecting our heritage of ethical, fair chase hunting.

It’s all included in the voting record, with descriptions of key bills and a record of where legislators came down on those measures. The voting record is not a scorecard and is not meant to express support for our opposition to any candidate. Rather, it’s an accounting of each legislator’s position on these important bills.

MWF is thankful to all of our grassroots volunteers who showed up and spoke up for wildlife, habitat, and access. Thanks again for making the voice of dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen heard this past session in the state Capitol.

Day 28 : Connections

Today we are going to focus on how all of the past days of learning are connected to each other here in Montana. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, Sage Grouse Conservation, and energy development are all related because they all impact Montana and Montanans.

Investigate this GIS map created by Trout Unlimited and learn how different aspects of conservation are related.

Navigate to the green button near the bottom of the screen labeled “Layer List” and turn on and off different layers to learn what areas of Montana are impacted by the issues we work on.

DAY 29: Contain the Spread of CWD

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is an always fatal, easily transmissible disease affecting ungulate species throughout North America. CWD is currently spreading throughout Montana’s elk, deer, and moose populations and is of top concern for wildlife officials. Currently, scientists and wildlife managers are searching for steps to both halt disease spread and lower disease prevalence in wildlife populations. As the voice of hunters in Montana, MWF has been actively involved in CWD management at the legislative level and through outreach to hunters.

MWF has a long history of working on proactive measures to prevent the spread. Among the biggest achievements was helping lead the effort in 2000 to ban game farms, where confined quarters and interstate shipments help spread this devastating disease. CWD was first found in Montana in a game farm in 1999.

Montana FWP has been conducting surveillance monitoring across the state since 1998 because CWD has been documented in surrounding states and provinces. The first detection of CWD in wild deer was in November 2017 in Carbon County in southeast Montana. Another case showed up in Liberty County in north-central Montana that year, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks implemented an immediate plan to test more samples through a special hunt and increased monitoring. Since then the disease has been detected in more than 20 animals, including six this year in Libby in Lincoln County in northwest Montana. That detection was a long way geographically from previous detections and the first time CWD appeared west of the Continental Divide.

Follow the recommendations from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to properly handle game I take. That includes:

      • Wear rubber gloves and eye protection when field dressing your deer or elk.
      • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
      • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
      • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of harvested animals. Normal field dressing, coupled with boning out of a carcass, will essentially remove these parts.
      • If you have any doubts or questions about the health of an animal you’ve harvested, please contact FWP.

Never feed wildlife, or bait game animals. It’s illegal in Montana in the first place, but the threat of CWD makes it all the more important to not concentrate animals and help make the spread of the diseases easier. CWD is spread through contact with diseased animals and bodily fluids.

Dispose of carcasses properly. In areas with CWD already detected, bury the carcass including the head, brain, and spinal column of harvested game onsite. Or bag up those parts and dispose of them in a landfill. Dispose of CWD positive animals in an approved landfill. Transport only boned meat and cleaned skull caps out of CWD Management Areas.

Report any sightings of deer, elk, or moose displaying signs of CWD. Those include lethargy, cognitive loss, confusion, or emaciation. I will let MWF and Montana FWP know the time, date, and location of an animal displaying any of these symptoms that are a strong indication of CWD infection. I will not harvest an animal that appears ill.

Contain the Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. Take the CWD Pledge.

DAY 30: Keeping Access to Your Public Lands

 

Montana is roughly one-third public land, including a mix of U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other federal lands, as well as state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation school trust lands and state Wildlife Management Areas. These are the places where many Montanans and non-residents come to hunt, fish, camp, hike, and recreate in a variety of ways. To enjoy these lands, we must be able to get to them. That means the ability to reach the boundary of public lands and access them for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational pursuits. Read the Locked-Out Report HERE. 

The Treasure State has a large network of public roads that allow us to get to public lands. These go beyond the highway system and include thousands of miles of country roads that pass through private land. They are roads that are managed by a public agency, whether it’s the county, a federal land management agency such as the U.S. Forest Service, or another public agency. Although these roads can sometimes be less developed than a paved highway, the public has a recognized legal right of passage on them. These roads have been used for decades by the public, including by ranchers to move livestock, businesses to deliver goods and services, as well as hunters, anglers and other recreationists. In many cases, these roads are maintained by local governments.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to allow Montanans to use public roads to access public lands. To block public access, some individuals put gates and other barriers across public roads that lead to public land.

It’s a common problem that has only grown in recent years. One public road leading through private land can access thousands of acres of National Forest or Bureau of Land Management land. Gating these roads can provide one person with exclusive access to these public lands, making it a private hunting, fishing and recreation playground at the expense of the public. It reduces public hunting and fishing opportunity, impedes sound wildlife management and further increases crowding of public hunters and anglers onto accessible lands. In fact, a 2014 study conducted by the Center for Western Priorities found that Montana has more inaccessible public land than any other state, with nearly 2 million acres of state and federal land unable to be accessed.

When cases of illegally closed roads end up in the news, it often looks like an isolated incident. Local hunters and anglers are outraged, and eventually the problem fades from view. Taken as a whole, however, illegal road closures are a significant threat to public access to public land. Montanans are fed up with people blocking public access to public lands and waters and forcing every dispute into court. Hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts are looking for more permanent solutions to improve public access to public lands. Montanans need solutions that prevent illegal road closures and other barriers to public access.

Our recommendations include:

  • Meaningful Fines for Illegal Roadblocks. At present, the fine in state law for illegally blocking a public road is $10 per day (Montana Code Annotated 7-14-2136). This far too low to be a real deterrent to prevent this illegal activity. The benefits of gaining exclusive access, whether it’s for exclusive use for a few hunters or for outfitting on public lands, are too great. A real deterrent is to set the fine at a meaningful level that will serve to prevent this activity, a minimum of $100 per day. It will not only serve as a deterrent but also direct the revenue from the fines to the county where the road is located to provide an incentive for counties to get engaged in road closures. The onus to reopen illegally gated public roads falls with county officials. It’s imperative that we get local elected officials more engaged in ensuring public access to public lands. Stepping up the fine for gating a public road is a good start.
  • State officials need to prioritize an inventory of public roads. A thorough, statewide assessment of public roads could help pre-empt situations in which public roads leading to public lands are blocked. It could also help provide historical context in cases of blocked roads. Montana under the direction of the governor has recently hired a public access specialist who is based in the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. This position is tasked with looking for ways to get to isolated parcels of state school trust lands, as well as other public lands. This could go a long way toward helping work out access to these parcels. According to a recent report by the Center for Western Priorities, Montana has the largest amount of inaccessible public lands at roughly 2 million acres. This includes landlocked public lands as well as large portions of federal public lands that cannot be reached. An access specialist could help resolve conflicts with solid historical research to document whether a road is public.
  • Get the state Attorney General’s office engaged in ensuring public access. Road disputes break out when a public road leading to public land is gated. These roads have often been used by the public for decades, yet suddenly they get gated. As in the examples above, in every instance, these are challenged by everyday Montanans looking to get to their public lands. Even when these cases are resolved in court, they come at a tremendous price to sportsmen’s groups, or others, who are forced to fight lengthy, expensive battles in court. It should not be the burden of the public to ensure that public roads remain open.

The Montana Attorney General’s office needs to engage in these cases and, when necessary, get involved in court. These are public servants who work for all Montanans, and their presence outside of county courthouses gives the Attorney General’s office the unique impartiality necessary in these cases.

DAY 31: FWP Budget a Win For Sportsmen, Wildlife and Fisheries

Photo by Adam Willoughby.

Montana FWP came out of 2019 with the strongest budget it has seen in over a decade. The spending authority for the agency includes investments in personnel, equipment, and information technology that give the professionals within the agency the resources they need to manage wildlife, hunting and angling, habitat and to enforce our fish and wildlife protection laws. In addition, the budget fixed the issue of how the state funds wildlife law enforcement in order to ensure compliance with federal law.

HB 2 General appropriations act (Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton) passed the House in great shape for FWP’s operations. It included grizzly bear specialists in Butte and Red Lodge, which are two areas seeing many more grizzlies moving in, as well as a wildlife planner position to update the statewide elk management plan. The bill also includes new boats, off-road vehicles and other equipment that FWP needs to do its job in the field.

Additional Resources:

Wolves, Bison and FWP Budget

Wildlife Wins in the 2019 Legislature

DAY 32: Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame

MWF has been working with the Montana Historical Society, Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation, and the Cinnabar Foundation to launch and sustain the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was created to honor individuals, both living and posthumous, who made significant and lasting contributions to the restoration and conservation of Montana’s wildlife and wild places. The first batch of twelve Hall of Fame inductees was honored in an induction ceremony on December 6, 2014. Future inductions will happen every other year.

The focus of the awards is not only to recognize Montana’s historical and contemporary conservation leaders but also to capture the stories of these individuals in an effort to contribute to public awareness and education. By celebrating the accomplishments of these men and women who contributed so much to Montana, we can inspire future generations to work to protect the Treasure State’s natural resources and outdoor traditions.

Conservation leader and long-time MWF member Jim Posewitz has been the force behind the creation of the Montana Hall of Fame. Jim had the idea after attending the 7th annual Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame banquet as a guest speaker. When he returned to Montana, he approached various non-governmental organizations, the Montana Historical Society, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to create an Outdoor Hall of Fame for Montana.

The first batch of inductees to the Hall of Fame include people from all periods of Montana’s history and all walks of life. They include some public historical figures and advocates who have worked for conservation in Montana “from territorial legislators to activists in the 1930’s and ’40s, all the way to the present date,” says Posewitz. Several people with strong ties to MWF are in the inaugural class.

MONTANA OUTDOOR HALL OF FAME 2018 INDUCTEES

DAY 33: Bird Conservation

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP) has been working for many years to monitor and address bird conservation issues. Their Montana Bird Conservation Program tackles the issue of bird conservation by focusing on three core tenets: monitoring & research, habitat conservation, and outreach.

This collaborative program takes the science of conservation and uses that knowledge to enact on-the-ground projects in addition to educating the public on our highest priority issues. To learn more about FWP and their work with birds.

Here are a few common birds you can ID in your own backyard:

Black-capped Chickadee 

Summary: To me, there are few birds that stand out as much as the chickadee. Their classic “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” calls are a constant reminder that the woods are never really unoccupied. These charismatic birds will curiously inspect anyone who happens to travel through their small forest territories and can even be found perched high atop the trees in cities and towns. Their relative, the mountain chickadee, can also be found at higher elevations throughout the state.

European Starling

Summary: This invasive bird species found its way to the U.S. through the writings of Shakespeare himself. Often embedded within the great playwrights works, these birds were brought over by a Shakespeare enthusiast and released into New York City. From there these birds have spread across North America and they now number in the hundreds of millions. Look for these birds foraging in your lawn.

Red-winged Blackbird

Summary: Male red-winged blackbirds offer a distinct flash of color to the marshes and fields where they are often found. Their signature call and red shoulder patches make them easily distinguishable. Look for these birds perched atop cattails, fence posts, and telephone poles.

Western Meadowlark

Summary: As the state bird of Montana, this colorful prairie native is sure to be familiar to many Montanans. Their melodious song travels great distances across the open plains they inhabit and they can often surprise onlookers by how close they sound. Their bright yellow underside and contrasting black chest markings make them stand out amongst other birds. Look for these birds perched atop fence posts near open fields.

DAY 34: Private Property Rights and Public Land Access

Working together, and being honest about private property rights and public land access, is the best way to protect our Montana values and outdoor heritage.

Unlike some Western states that are a majority of public land and Eastern states that are all private, Montana enjoys a mix. This balance of public and private land is crucial to our outdoor traditions and our farming and ranching heritage. Generations of Montanans have hunted both private and public lands. Our livestock industry, and the communities that depend on it, also rely on public and private land. Montanans deeply respect private property and at the same time are dedicated to protecting public access to public land.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 60 percent of Montanans hunt on private land. It is in everyone’s interest to provide incentives and financial support for landowners who wish to allow access to their land. This provides an opportunity for hunters, and it benefits landowners by controlling the damage that elk, deer, and other game cause to crops and fences.

In fact, Montana has a suite of solid programs for private landowners who want to allow public access. The Block Management program provides cash compensation to hundreds of landowners for hunter access. The Unlocking State Lands program gives a tax credit for access across private land to landlocked state parcels. Numerous locally-based collaborative efforts such as the Devil’s Kitchen Working Group near Cascade bring landowners and hunters together to forge access agreements for private land.

The Montana Wildlife Federation worked with other sportsmen’s and agricultural groups to increase compensation to landowners in Block Management and renew the Unlocking State Lands program. MWF and other groups are also working together to forge better relations between landowners and hunters to open up more private lands to hunting.

Even as we work to support private landowners who provide access to their land, we also must maintain a strong defense of public access to public land. This includes protecting legally recognized public roads and trails and defending access to public streams.

It’s unfortunate that there are people who want to limit the ability of Montanans to access our public lands, often so they can profit personally from that access. Because private property rights are such an important Montana value, people sometimes claim them as their excuse for blocking access to public land. It’s a distraction. Illegally blocking legal access to public property is not the same as deciding what happens on your private property. It’s an affront to legitimate property rights, and it’s unfair to all Montanans to play private property rights against public land access.

Montanans need leaders who will support private property rights and public access rights. This means continuing to provide incentives and support for private landowners to expand access to their land. It also means standing up for public land managers who defend public access, and not just talking the talk about access. The current controversy surrounding public access in the Crazy Mountains illustrates how important it is that we support and defend the professional employees who are working to protect public access and private property.

Additional Resources:

Unlocking Public Lands

Block Management