MONTANA FAMILIES THRIVE ON PUBLIC LANDS

brett_french_mother_son_fishingPhoto Credit: Brett French

Summer is upon us…and every mom in Montana knows what that means. Our local playgrounds, swimming pools, trails and rivers become classrooms for our wee ones for the next three months. The longest days of the year are spent catching frogs, roasting marshmallows on camping trips, and dodging elementary-aged neighborhood biker gangs pedaling off to their next adventure.
Moms across Montana wouldn’t have it any other way.

I beam with pride at the end of the day looking at my three little ladies from across the dinner table: knees scraped, hair a tangle of knots and pine needles, and faces flushed from a day of playing under the big sky…instead of having spent the day indoors glued to an iPad screen. Their memories will be peppered with urban adventures right out our backdoor, thanks to public lands and rivers.

The Montana Mountain Mamas spoke out early and often in support of programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, because we rely on public lands every day to raise our kids. Even if we aren’t on a backpacking trip in the Bob Marshall, riding the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the springtime on bikes, or running the rapids on the Gallatin River – our public spaces positively affect our kids every single day. And as parents, we’ll protect their right to access public spaces that enable them to scrape knees and get muddy.

LWCF supports vital local urban spaces like community parks, trails, playgrounds, swimming pools, fishing access sites and soccer fields. Our public lands are so much more diverse than national parks and big game hunting grounds on forest service land. Our public lands are all around us, every day.

Programs such as LWCF are a win-win for all Montanans. LWCF is not a tax that we see; instead the funding is derived from offshore oil and gas exploration. It tackles big-picture conservation issues such as checker boarded public lands that effect wildlife migration, but also closer-to-home solutions such as funding for a local lacrosse field and urban connecter trails so that kids can take a trail from their homes all of the way to their school.

For most Montana parents, our public lands are where we raise our children. We depend on fishing access sites to float and fish our blue ribbon trout streams, we hold birthday parties in our neighborhood parks, and we make home purchases based upon proximity to playgrounds.

Kids who grow up in Montana get the best of both worlds. They understand the need for big country for big game, and often spend every autumn weekend hunting on our public lands with family and friends. However they also enjoy the local, close-to-home benefits public lands offer…like that evening casting session for trout in urban waterways across Montana.

The Montana Mountain Mamas are dedicated to raising our kids with plenty of fresh air, clean water, and access to it all. We are proud to speak out on behalf of our kids and our public lands. Visit www.montanamountainmamas.org to sign up for our newsletter, check out our latest gear review, or read our most recent blog post from gals across Montana.

Becky Edwards lives in Bozeman with her husband and three daughters, and is the Director of the Montana Mountain Mamas.

PUBLIC ACCESS: DEFENDING A MONTANA TRADITION

Two anglers walking at sunset.

Montana is consistently rated one of the best places to live in the country, and it’s no secret that easy access to the outdoors is one of the main reasons why. Nowhere else in the world can match the opportunities we have here to hunt, fish, camp and enjoy the great outdoors. Polls consistently show that the ability to get outside and enjoy fresh air, wild country, and clean water is the number one reason people choose to live here.

Montana’s rich outdoor opportunities depend on our national forests, national parks and other public lands. These lands – totaling more than 28 million acres, or about a third of the state – provide ample opportunity for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and other recreational activities. It’s no surprise that Montanans visit public lands at a higher rate than almost anybody else in the nation. One poll from 2015 found that 96 percent of Montanans reported visiting public lands in the last year—with more than 43 percent visiting more than twenty times.

Public lands are particularly important for Montana hunters…

Read the full story, and more, in the MWF Summer 2016 Newsletter.

Forget the rhetoric: in Montana we know public lands mean access and habitat

NLWMA-BullsElk graze on newly acquired WMA lands

Last week, while a bunch of all-hat, no-cow rebels were vandalizing public property and hogging national media attention in Burns, Oregon, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission quietly approved a few projects that show just how popular public land really is.

Montanans bought more public land for public access and wildlife habitat.

That’s right – Montanans purchased land from willing sellers to add to our state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). The purchases included key winter range for elk west of Missoula, wetlands along the north shore of Flathead Lake and a key wildlife link between Nevada Mountain and the Garnett Range near Helmville. The projects were funded by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Habitat Montana program.

In total, 1,156 acres were added to the public estate. These are places where all Montanans – and all Americans – can go to hunt, fish, hike, birdwatch, etc. All three were additions to existing WMAs, places that were already protected by hunters and anglers who had the foresight to set land aside for wildlife.

The projects were partially paid for through Habitat Montana, which uses a small fee on hunting licenses to purchase conservation easements, fishing access sites, lands for wildlife, access and sporting opportunity. Habitat Montana is essential because it is often matched with federal and private foundation dollars to complete projects. These projects also included funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded by a portion of offshore oil drilling revenue.

The Oregon occupiers – and the extremist politicians who support them – vilify national forests, wildlife refuges and other federal lands, and hold up state management as a panacea. But then they turn around and oppose funding for state public land programs like Habitat Montana.

Instead of the political rhetoric, we should be working together to support more public land and more public access at every level. Instead of pitting federal government versus state government, we should support programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Habitat Montana that protect land for people and wildlife.

The truth is that public lands – state and federal – contribute to local economies. The habitat and access that public lands provide are essential to sustain Montana’s $6 billion outdoor recreation economy. State and federal agencies also make payments to counties to offset the lost property tax revenue.

Montanans know these places are even more important than dollars and cents. They’re essential to our very way of life – a big if not the biggest reason people choose to live here.

So let the blowhards in Oregon who think they’re entitled to our national birthright continue to spew their nonsense while they tear down fences and destroy public property. The vast majority of Americans know the real value of our public lands and will fight fiercely to protect them.

Nick Gevock is the conservation director for Montana Wildlife Federation.

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

mountain lake

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.

CONGRESS MUST STOP RAIDING LWCF

rivermountain3

In 1964, Congress enacted the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to set aside a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development to pay for parks, wildlife habitat, and other natural areas. In other words, the money the federal government makes from developing public resources is dedicated back into conserving other public resources.

LWCF provides a simple, common-sense way to offset some of the impacts of oil and gas drilling and support much-needed land conservation without using taxpayer dollars. It’s no wonder that LWCF was enacted with bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats all saw the thrifty wisdom in this common-sense program.

Under the law, the LWCF is supposed to provide $900 million a year in funding to purchase land, water, and public access. Over the last 50 years, the fund has accrued a total of about $36 billion from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Unfortunately, Congress has regularly raided the LWCF to cover other government spending. Nearly every year since the program has created, Congress has voted to divert the fund to pay for other government expenditures.

Nobody knows exactly where LWCF dollars have gone, but we do know that less than half of the intended funding has actually ended up in land protection. More than $19 billion of the LWCF has been spent on pork barrel construction projects, unnecessary government programs, and abandoned military hardware – but not the land and water protection the law intended.

Despite the diversion of funds, the LWCF has had some real successes. Over the last 50 years, LWCF has resulted in about $16 billion in funding nationwide, protecting everything from national forest wilderness lands to fishing access sites to urban parks. Over $400 million has gone to Montana projects. 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 has been used to acquire most of Montana’s fishing access sites as well as key parcels that open up large areas of “land-locked” public land for hunting and fishing.

LWCF has meant a lot for Montana. The fund has help provide communities across the state with new municipal pools, golf courses, tennis courts, baseball fields, town parks and trails. It’s also been used in Montana to preserve forest lands that help protect the water supplies that we depend on for drinking water and irrigation. LWCF is used to obtain public access sites to our rivers and public lands and has been crucial to protecting hunting, fishing, backpacking and every other outdoor activity that makes Montana such a great place to live. In addition to supporting our quality of life, the program has fueled the Treasure State’s $6 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Fortunately for us, both Senator Jon Tester and Senator Steve Daines have expressed support for LWCF, and they have both cosponsored Senate Bill 338, which permanently authorizes the program. That’s a great start. Senator Tester has gone a step further and also cosponsored Senate Bill 890, which both permanently authorizes the fund and locks in the $900 million in annual spending, protecting it from future budget raids.

Just imagine what we could accomplish if Congress stopped hijacking LWCF and allowed all of the funds to go to their intended purpose. With a 50 year track record, this program doesn’t need any debate, evaluation, or “reform.” The partially-funded LWCF has done great things for Montanans and all Americans. The time has come for our elected officials to restore full funding to LWCF.

Kathy Hadley lives in Deer Lodge. She is president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
A version of this article appeared in the Helena IR. You can see that version here

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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