Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Habitat Conservation Blues


Politics is a blood sport and as the deals get made and trades on votes occur in dark corners with hushed conversations, the 63rd Montana Legislature is winding down. The blood is flowing.

On April 15th, Patriot’s day, the Montana Senate decided that they didn’t want habitat conservation to be a part of Montana’s wildlife legacy anymore.

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee a few days earlier amended HB 5 to ensure that FWP wouldn’t be able to purchase another Wildlife Management Area or enter into Conservation Easements under the Habitat Montana program. Instead, the committee decided that short term leases, like FWP already engages in under the Access Montana Program would be the only use of this money.

If legislators actually took the time to look into what existing FWP programs there are, even a cursory glance shows us that the Access Montana program, which has around $500,000 per year for spending, doesn’t come close to matching that. The demand for long term leases just isn’t there.

Senator Kendall Van Dyk offered an amendment to HB 5 that would have restored the ability of FWP to enter into Conservation Easements and allow FWP to purchase more WMA’s if a deal was too good to pass up. His amendment closely mirrored the same amendment that the House of Representatives. It simply placed in HB 5 priority on Conservation Easements (with perpetual access agreements). This is the same priority that Governor Steve Bullock has told the agency to focus on.

But a long string of defeats when it comes to kicking the public off public lands has made some folks in the Senate mad. They cite purchases such as the Milk River Ranch, Spotted Dog and the Marias River WMA as the driving force behind their disdain for the most successful habitat conservation program FWP has. It’s a damned shame that during the last few days of the session, personal vendettas and short-sightedness take precedent over a program that has widespread support. The amendment died 23-27.

Habitat Montana has been a cornerstone program in how Montana maintains long hunting seasons, reduces landowner/wildlife conflict and provides permanent access to private lands while ensuring family farms and ranches can be passed down to the next generation of ranchers and farmers without breaking the bank.
The program has opened up over 200,000 acres of land and made them Public Property. It’s opened countless thousands of acres of land under private ownership to hunters and anglers as well all while conserving critical wildlife habitat.

There’s one opportunity left to fix this bad bill. Call 406-444-4800 or use the legislatures contact form and email your Representative and ask them to vote against concurrence on HB 5 and force it into a conference committee. It’s the only way we continue to get places like Fish Creek & the Marshall Block MWA’s in western Montana, and provides conservation easements for projects like the Teigen Ranch in eastern Montana.

There’s no time to waste. Act now. 

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