Why Sportsmen Need to Support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

hunters look out

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.

Take Action: Ask Rep. Greg Gianforte to Support HR 3742!

We Can Save All of Montana’s Wildlife

Bat 1There is a disease coming to Montana that could decimate one of Montana’s most charismatic and economically important animals. But it is an animal that is misunderstood by many and not fully understood by biologists. Hibernating bats can be affected by White Nose Syndrome (WNS) and millions of bats across North America have been killed by the disease. WNS is caused by a fungus that grows in dark, damp and cool places. Places such as caves, which happen to be one of the favorite places of some bat species. WNS was first detected in 2006 in upstate New York and has spread west in the following years. 

WNS has not arrived in Montana yet but most scientists agree it is only a matter of time before it arrives. Scientists from the state have been working hard for nearly 10 years trying to understand the life cycle and habits of bats across the state. With a better understanding of these things, scientists can truly gauge the impact of WNS on Montana’s bats and make informed management decisions that may impact bats. 

As a caver, I have been very fortunate to assist state and federal scientists and land managers access bat hibernacula and roosts in caves. During the winter biologists from the Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks have been trying to determine the places where bats hibernate and increase their understanding of the lives bats lead. During the spring, biologists enter caves to monitor bat hibernacula and test bats for the fungus that causes WNS. 

Recently, I asked my friend and fellow caver Lauri Hanauska-Brown (the Non-Game Wildlife Management Bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks), what is one thing that would really help bats? The answer she gave was much simpler than I anticipated. She said bats and other non-game wildlife would really benefit from a dedicated source of funding to prevent them from becoming endangered. The best way to get that funding she told me, would be for Congress to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). 

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would secure almost $30 million annually to the state of Montana for conservation actions targeted at bats and hundreds of other Montana species. This money could make a large impact on the programs that are helping biologists understand bats and hopefully help them weather the coming storm. 

As a caver and bat enthusiast, I am asking that you help me protect bats and other non-game species by sending a message to our congressional delegation and ask them to support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. 

Click here to send a message to Representative Gianforte and ask him to support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

By MWF Member and Engagement Coordinator Zach Angstead.

Governor Signs PAL Act

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Photo by Hunter Wiseley

MWF thanks Gov. Bullock for signing SB 341, the Public Access Land act, and agrees with the Governor that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs to craft rules that ensure it’s properly used to effectively open access to landlocked public lands with no other options. That’s why we sought an amendment, sponsored by Senator Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls), to ensure that rule-making authority was included in the bill.

“MWF put in a lot of hard work and time to develop this legislation, along with other groups, Senate Leadership, and DFWP, throughout the session,” said Dave Chadwick, MWF executive director. “It shows that Montanans can solve access issues by working together, and now as the governor said it’s time to write a rule for the law that ensures that’s exactly what gets done.”

SB 341, sponsored by Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, allows FWP to enter into agreements with landowners for opening easements to public lands that are otherwise unreachable by the public. Grants will be reviewed by the Private Land/Public Wildlife Council and by the FWP director.

In addition, rules must be written to ensure a review so that any projects proposed are not in conflict with existing easements to those lands. Bullock in his signing statement said he was directing FWP to write a rule that ensures easements can’t be used to eliminate an existing public easement.

“I am excited about the prospect of opening up more land through the mechanism envisioned by SB 341. I have some concerns, however, about whether these same agreements could be used to defeat an existing right of access the public holds,” Bullock said in his signing statement. “For example, I anticipate concerns over whether a landowner could use the existence of an agreement under SB 341 as evidence of permissive use to defeat a historical prescriptive easement. Accordingly, as my administration implements this bill, I am directing the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to adopt rules that will require the Department to determine if the public already has access to a property before finalizing any agreement under SB 341.”

Every program has the possibility of being abused. How those programs are implemented helps to guarantee that the public’s resources and money are wisely used to ensure that we start working on eliminating the 1.5 million acres of landlocked public land. We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Senator Blasdel on SB 341, and his insistence that all groups work together to find common ground.

MWF will be heavily engaged in the rulemaking process, as well as reviewing any proposals that come forward under SB 341.

MWF Congratulates Appointed Commissioners

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The Montana Wildlife Federation congratulates the four members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission who were confirmed by the Senate.

“We are looking forward to working with these commissioners to tackle the difficult but rewarding issues around our public fish and wildlife resources,” said Dave Chadwick, MWF executive director. “It is a major commitment of time and energy to serve on the Commission, and we’re thankful these leaders are willing to put in that effort.”

The Senate this week confirmed Tim Aldrich, of Missoula, and Shane Colton, of Billings, to terms that end in two years in 2021. Both were appointed in 2017 by Gov. Bullock and awaited Senate approval.

Also confirmed were Pat Byorth, of Bozeman, and Logan Brower, of Scobey, to four-year terms that will end in 2023.

Aldrich is a past president of MWF and has served on numerous advisory boards and councils regarding fish and wildlife, and lands.  Aldrich is retired from a distinguished career in the US Forest Service.  Colton served on the Commission for eight years in the 2000s and was again appointed in 2017.

Byorth is a former fisheries biologist with FWP who brings extensive knowledge of fisheries management. He currently works as an attorney with Montana Trout Unlimited working on water rights issues. Brower is a high school teacher and athletic director in Scobey.

The Commission will have numerous difficult issues to deal with in the coming two years. One of the main ones will elk management as we look at an update of the statewide management plan and address criticisms of elk “shoulder seasons”.  The Commission will also have to address grizzly management, Chronic Wasting Disease, aquatic invasive species, and many more issues.

New poll: Montanans strongly support Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

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Senator Jon Tester introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act in 2017

A poll of Montanans released today by the Montana Wildlife Federation shows continued strong support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project and collaborative efforts to protect wildlife habitat, recreational access, and timber jobs.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project was developed through more than decade of local discussions among conservation, recreation, and timber groups in the Seeley Lake area. The project provides for forest restoration activities to support local timber jobs, the development of additional recreational trails, and the designation of 79,000 acres of additional wilderness on public land adjacent to the existing wilderness areas of the Mission Mountain, Bob Marshall, and Scapegoat.  Senator Jon Tester introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 507) in February 2017 to complete full implementation of the project.

The poll released today by the Montana Wildlife Federation found:

  • Montanans continue to support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, which would protect wildlife habitat, ensure access to public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreation, and support timber harvesting to create jobs and improve forest health. 68% support the project and only 27% oppose the project.
  • Support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project was consistent across party lines, with 79% of Democrats 63% of Republicans, and 63% of independents expressing support for the proposal.
  • Montanans are strong supporters of collaborative efforts like the BCSP that bring together different stakeholders to find common ground over public land management issues.  75% of Montanans say they would be more likely to support a forest management plan developed through a collaborative approach, versus only 10 percent who would be less likely.
  • Fully 85% of Montanans think that members of Congress should hold in-person town hall meetings to hear from the public about public land management issues.

“This poll shows that Montanans know that the best way to protect wildlife habitat, public access, and local economies is for stakeholders to roll up their sleeves and work together.  Senator Jon Tester knows how important it is to listen to Montanans and carry their fight to Washington.  Now we need the rest of our congressional delegation to follow his lead and get this proposal over the finish line,” said Dave Chadwick, the Montana Wildlife Federation’s executive director.

The strong support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project collaborative effort mirrors other polls over the last several years, which have shown consistently strong support among Montanans for the project.

This  poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a national public opinion research firm.  PPP surveyed 512 Montana voters from February 14-16, 2018. The margin of error is +/- 4.3%. This poll was conducted by automated telephone interviews.

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Alec Underwood

Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking.