Lawmakers Should Support Montana Rural Habitat Fund

Legislators have a golden opportunity to invest in the lands and people of Montana by creating the Montana Legacy Trust. The Legacy Trust is a proposal that has been endorsed by a bipartisan coalition of hunters, landowners and outfitters with the goal of bringing Montanese together as partners, rather than the usual push to push us further apart.

The Trust would create a permanent account, funded by an initial investment of $200 million from our historic surplus that could fund stewardship and restoration treatments to improve the health of the land and natural resources on which we all depend. Relying solely on interest generated by the trust, approximately $4-8 million per year, the funds would be used to improve wildlife habitat on public or private lands, improve or expand water resources, mitigate impacts of hunting and outdoor recreation on local infrastructure. , or mitigate the impacts of abnormally intense wildfires and invasive species.

Why is this important? Because Montana needs to do a better job of taking care of our habitat. Although Montana has many tools to conserve public and private lands, we lack a funding mechanism to address the fragile health of our lands. As a hunter, I consider restoring and improving our habitat to be central to solving Montana’s most complex wildlife issues, including elk management. Poor forest health on public lands has led to the redistribution of elk and deer populations from public to private lands across much of the state and outright population reductions in the northwest.

I live in northwest Montana. Here we have witnessed dramatic changes in the habitat health of our public lands and a decline in the health of our forests. The large-scale encroachment of conifers has reduced the amount of available forage and browse for our wildlife and also set the stage for abnormally hot and large wildfires to move across the landscape. If you combine this with the spread of noxious weeds throughout much of the woodlands west of Kalispell, we are seeing obvious wildlife impacts. In addition to predators, deteriorating habitat conditions have contributed to significant declines and changes in our regional elk populations.

Historically, the Flathead National Forest alone supported 4,000 to 6,000 elk and had a sustainable harvest of elk that ranged between 700 and 1,800 animals per year. The 2022 elk survey conducted by Fish Wildlife and Parks recorded only 2,246 elk in all Region 1 hunting districts.

As state populations grow, so does the demand for our wildlife. Growing demands coupled with declining public land elk populations have led to intense competition for what is left. So I think that begs the question, should we continue on our current trajectory and just learn to become more competitive for what’s left? Or should we perhaps take a step back and consider investing in our wild places so there are more resources to roam?

But it’s not just about me. The Legacy Fund would be available to all land and all people in every county in Montana. This includes helping farmers and ranchers in eastern and central Montana who face entirely different circumstances than we have in northwest Montana as well as tribal governments seeking to improve land conditions.

The Legacy Trust is synonymous with flexibility. It is designed to give local people – landowners, hunters, fishers, tribesmen and conservation districts – the tools and resources they need to use their local knowledge and do good work for the benefit of local people and communities. local wildlife.

Never forget that Montana is the “last best place,” so let’s seize a historic opportunity and use a small portion of our budget surplus to invest in Montana’s wildlife and our way of life.

ian wargo

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