MONTANA SPORTSMEN: LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION FUND DESERVES MORE THAN TEMPORARY FIX

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Hunters and anglers thank Montana delegation for their bipartisan support, vow to keep pushing for full funding and permanent reauthorization

Early this morning, congressional negotiators revealed a proposed budget for next year that includes partial funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the nation’s flagship program to provide public access to public land. The deal keeps the program alive for three more years and provides $450 million in funding for the next year. However, it falls short of what Montana hunters and anglers have repeatedly requested.

Created 50 years ago, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides critical funding to Montana and every other state to improve access to public lands, parks and waterways. LWCF directs funds from offshore oil and gas royalties to support land conservation and public access. However, Congress has diverted more than half of these funds away from conservation purposes over the past half-century.

Though temporary reauthorization and partial funding are welcome, many Montana hunters and anglers want Congress to permanently reauthorize the LWCF and fully fund the program.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is crucially important to Montana’s hunters, anglers and everyone who enjoys our outdoors,” said Kathy Hadley, president of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “We’re grateful to Senator Jon Tester, Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke for their support for permanent, full funding. We will continue to work with them to push the rest of Congress to get the job done.”

“We applaud the Montana delegation’s leadership in supporting this important program for sportsmen. However, reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is only the first step,” said John Sullivan, co-chair of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “We look forward to working with the delegation to ensure that the LWCF is fully funded at $900 million, as a conservation program is useless without funding. Public access is too critical an issue to ignore.”

“While we’re pleased the Land and Water Conservation Fund will serve Montana for a bit longer, we are disappointed that some negotiators in Congress still think they can get away with weakening one of our nation’s most successful programs,” said John Gibson, president of Public Land and Water Access, Inc. “This budget deal is like temporarily unlocking an illegal gate to our public lands. We need that gate torn down.”

“I’m encouraged that we made it this far, thanks to the bipartisan work of Montana’s congressional delegation,” said Jim Vashro, Flathead Wildlife, Inc. “We want to remind all lawmakers in Congress that the Land and Water Conservation Fund deserves much more than a temporary fix.”

Congress is expected to pass the extension of the LWCF, which is part of a broader, bipartisan funding proposal, this week.

THE MONTANA OUTDOOR HALL OF FAME

Over the last two years, 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. Nominations for the second round of inductees are being accepted until December 31, 2015, with the next inductees being selected and honored towards the end of 2016.

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 40’s, all the way to the present date,” says Posewitz. Several people with strong ties to MWF are in the inaugural class.

Help us continue to recognize and honor those who’ve worked so hard to make sure that Montana remains a state of healthy lands and waters, teaming with wildlife, with unmatched access and opportunity. Go online today and make a nomination. The window for the next round of honorees ends December 31.

Nominations can be made online at Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame.

SCIENCE-BASED MANAGEMENT SOMETIMES MEANS GIVING UP HUNTING OPPORTUNITY

Elk sticks out tongue during winter scene.

Hunters are often asked to give up opportunity when a game species is struggling. And as conservationists, we know that it’s the responsible thing to do for the long-term health of our cherished public wildlife resources. In Montana, we have a long history of stepping up and doing just that. An excellent example is with antelope in eastern Montana following the brutal winter of 2010-2011. We went from 13,000 either sex licenses and an additional 7,000 doe tags to a total of 3,000 tags in southeastern Montana. It was a tough change, but that herd is recovering. Future generations will thank us for protecting their opportunity to hunt these antelope.

Hunting District 313, near the town of Gardiner on the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park, is another example where we need to limit hunting in order to support the long-term survival of our big game for future generations. The northern Yellowstone elk herd, which moves between the park and public and private lands north of there, has dropped to an average of just 2.7 mature bull elk per 100 cow elk. The number is below the threshold that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) considers sustainable, and the agency has proposed to address the situation by going from the current unlimited permit system to a limited draw for 75 bull permits.

This is a dramatic change, but it’s necessary. FWP biologist Karen Loveless has analyzed the data and come up with a science-based recommendation to protection the long-term survival of the herd. That’s what wildlife managers do – they use the best available science to recommend management actions that will keep the herd around for the future.

Unfortunately, FWP’s proposal has encountered some harsh, unwarranted criticism. Last week, the agency held a public information session on the proposal where several outfitters and area hunters criticized Loveless’ data. They pointed to a couple years when the herd wasn’t surveyed, including one year when the agency skipped the survey for budget reasons, to refute all of the data the agency has assembled. One outfitter repeatedly questioned Loveless’ educational background.

We can’t stick our heads in the sand or talk our way out of paying attention to good science. Facts are facts. The herd in HD 313 is struggling when it comes to bull-cow ratios. It’s been on the decline, despite the fact that the overall herd numbers are rising. Some who oppose the proposal are making claims about how much money it could cost the town of Gardiner to limit permits, but doing nothing will cost even more.

The Montana Wildlife Federation supports FWP’s efforts to recover the Gardiner elk herd. As hunters and conservationists, our first priority should always be the long-term survival of the public wildlife resource, managed with the best science. We can thank past generations for limiting their own hunting opportunity so that we can enjoy the best wildlife in the West today. We owe the same to future generations.

Nick Gevock is Montana Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Director.

BIRD HUNTING SOLO IN EASTERN MONTANA

Bird Hunter Robin Poole

Let me start by saying that if you do not have access to a bird dog, but you know someone who does, it is time to invite him or her hunting. For me, it is simply more enjoyable to have a companion, two or four legged, in the field but there will always be times when hunting alone is the only option. Montana offers such amazing habitat that sitting around and watching football on the weekends would be a tragic waste of public hunter’s time. Below are strategies to guide a hunter on the day he turns off the television and sets off to fill his game bag.

Shoot straight:

Alright so this one is obvious, but it still has to be said; without a dog, you are responsible to chase down cripples, a task easier said than done. Hunting alone is not the time to take impressive or long shots. Shoot one bird, mark it, and immediately retrieve it. It is critical to put a good mark on the bird and get to that spot as quickly as you can. Pheasants are tough birds and they will vanish if your shot is not dead accurate.

Hunt the seams:

The highest percentage areas for a solo hunter are usually along the seams that separate food from cover. The essential element to hunting the seams is setting up for the flush, and the follow-up.

Hunt into the wind:

The best way to get within range of pheasants is to minimize noise and hunt into the wind whenever possible. This creates easier shooting opportunities as the bird will most likely flush against the wind.

Concluding thought:

Montana has some of the best pheasant hunting in the country and a lot of it is accessible to the average hunter who is willing to grab a map and hit the road. Between all the private lands enrolled in Block Management, state Wildlife Management Areas, and BLM land there is no excuse not to get out this season, even if you do not have a dog.

Montana sportsmen: Utah lawmaker threatens the future of hunting and fishing

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HELENA MT – Montana sportsmen say a proposal by a Utah Rep. Rob Bishop to gut the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) would be a disaster for the future of hunting and fishing and virtually end America’s most effective tool for conserving habitat and public access.

The Utah Republican today unveiled a first look at his plans to upend the program in the House Natural Resources Committee. Among other things, Bishop’s plan would drastically divert historic funding away from projects that seek to conserve wildlife habitat and expand public access to hunt and fish.

Since 1965, the Land & Water Conservation Fund has helped conserve habitat and open up access across Montana and the rest of the United States. For example, more than half of fishing access sites in Montana were paid for with help from LWCF.

Montanans were quick to condemn Bishop’s move.

“The Land & Water Conservation Fund works for Montanans and all Americans. To say it needs ‘reform’ is an insult to its 50-year track record of success,” said Hannah Ryan, co-chair of the Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “This legislation should be seen what it is: an ideologically driven effort to torpedo America’s most successful conservation and access program.”

“All we need is full funding for LWCF,” said Kathy Hadley, President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Reform is just a diversion to run the clock down on the program. At best, it means taking funding away from America’s outdoor families. At worst, it means killing LWCF completely.”

Montana’s entire Congressional Delegation is on the record supporting LWCF, following a hard-fought effort to reauthorize it at the end of the 2015 fiscal year in September. Rep. Bishop was among those who held up reauthorizing the 50-year-old program.

LWCF, which enjoys bipartisan support and relies on offshore oil leases and not taxpayer funding, has invested in everything from playgrounds, swimming pools, and local parks. In Montana, LWCF is responsible for recently opening up public access to the famed Tenderfoot Creek in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and helped pay for most of the state’s fishing access sites, statewide.

“If you are a hunter or angler in Montana, you’ve used an access point purchased through LWCF,” said Jim Vashro a retired Fish, Wildlife, and Parks fisheries biologist and President of Flathead Wildlife in Kalispell, MT. “The program doesn’t need reform, it just needs reauthorization and full funding.”

Although the program isn’t currently authorized, stakeholders are still hopeful for a year-end fix. They don’t see any path forward for Rep. Bishop’s current vision.

“Montana has long been a leader in the effort to fund and reauthorize LWCF,” said Glenn Marx, Executive Director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “We will not let attacks on the program distract us from moving forward.”

 

The Montana Wildlife Federation depends on your support to keep up the fight for public access, public wildlife, and public land.  Donate today.

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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. 

alec@mtwf.org