In a bipartisan win for public access, a win for working ranches, and a win for our outdoor recreation economy, the Montana Legislature largely defended conservation funding approved by nearly 58% of voters last fall in recently passing H.B. 701. MWF encourages Governor Greg Gianforte to sign the bill and deliver historic funding to Montana’s Great Outdoors.
Montana Wildlife Federation took the extraordinary step of endorsing the legalization and conservation funding ballot measures because deficiencies for our public natural resources and their enjoyment have been decades in the making and needed 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, restrooms and other facilities, and boosting educational programs to meet the increased visitation.
Many of MWF’s affiliates, Board Directors, and members across the state joined 29 other conservation groups in working with a bipartisan group of legislators to secure a projected $16 million per year by 2025 for conservation in Montana.