Montana Poised to Establish a National Precedent for 21st Century Conservation Funding

Montana hunters, anglers, conservationists support bid for $18 million-a-year investment in wildlife, habitat, access

The Montana Wildlife Federation is Montana’s oldest, largest and most effective statewide wildlife conservation and sporting organization. Our roots date back to 1936, when hunters and anglers joined landowners to restore Montana’s depleted wildlife. We have an 84-year record of working to solve the difficult issues surrounding public wildlife, habitat and access to enjoy our public trust resources.

MWF endorses I-190 and CI-118 because of their tremendous potential to address longstanding financial issues surrounding many of our public resources. It’ll be extraordinary if Montana voters support this new revenue stream for conservation. Natural resources, working lands and public recreation would tremendously benefit from passage of these ballot initiatives.

With CI-118 and I-190, it’s estimated that Montana’s budget for public land access and management would see an $18-million boost in revenue. I-190 is a statutory initiative that legalizes, regulates, and taxes marijuana in Montana. CI-118 amends the Montana Constitution to make the minimum age for consumption and purchase of marijuana 21.

I-190 includes language that earmarks half of generated marijuana tax revenue for conservation efforts, however, CI-118 also needs to pass for these funds to be made available. The Nongame Wildlife Special Revenue Account, State Park Special Revenue Account, and Trails and Recreational Facilities Account will each get more than 4 percent of tax revenue generated from marijuana sales. Habitat Montana alone will get 37 percent of collected revenue. Combined, that’s more than $18 million per year in funding for Montana’s wildlife, waters, and public lands.

Montana Wildlife Federation is taking the extraordinary step of endorsing these ballot measures because funding deficiencies for public natural resources and their enjoyment have been decades in the making and need to be addressed. A 2019 report produced by Montana-based Headwaters Economics found numerous funding shortfalls to keep up with the growing demands on our state’s parks, ranches and farms, public trails and public wildlife. For example:

  • Wildlife management and conservation needs an estimated $15 million annually to keep pace with a host of growing challenges, from emerging issues like Chronic Wasting Disease in big game, aquatic invasive species in our fisheries to longstanding conservation priorities that include restoring key wildlife habitat such as big game winter range.
  • Working lands including private farms, ranches and timberlands have an unmet need of $12.4 million. The needs include conservation easements over lands slated for development. Easements keep these lands in working agriculture and timber production, while also ensuring they provide the open space to maintain wildlife habitat and public recreation on these important areas.
  • State trails for multiple-use recreation have a $7.1 million need to address safety, erosion and access. Statewide nearly three quarters of Montanans use trails Funding is needed for maintenance and improvements.
  • The Montana State Park system has an estimated $25.7 million maintenance backlog just to keep up with the demand on facilities. The backlog includes repairing and upgrading campgrounds, toilets, and other facilities, and boosting educational programs to meet the increased visitation.

With roughly half of the public revenue generated by I-190 and CI-118 dedicated to these important needs, Montana is poised to establish a significant national precedent for funding conservation in the 21st century. The funding will benefit wildlife habitat on public and private lands – including important big game winter range and helping efforts to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered. It will go toward our state parks. And it will go toward trails and recreation that all Montanans enjoy. This initiative would benefit all Montanans; our quality of life, ranchers and landowners who are our partners in conservation, and our growing outdoor recreation economy.

If approved by Montana voters, Montana Wildlife Federation will collaborate with many others to ensure that state government will abide by the will of the electorate.  MWF will staunchly oppose any attempts at reallocation of existing or new conservation appropriations.

 

 

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