MISSOULA, Mont.— Ducks Unlimited, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Wild Sheep Foundation, and other Montana hunters and anglers call on the Montana legislature to restore the spending authority of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).
"These are sportsmen's dollars, not tax dollars, and cannot be used for any purpose other than habitat improvement and recreational access," said Bob Sanders, Ducks Unlimited's Montana manager of conservation. "The Legislature should be looking for ways to improve these programs, not eliminate them. It's very baffling."
At issue are the cuts to some of Montana's most productive and heavily supported wildlife programs. On March 25, 2015, the House Appropriations Committee removed FWP's spending authority for the following programs from HB 403, and the Montana House subsequently passed the measure:
• Eliminated the Habitat Montana program appropriation of $10,668,000
• Eliminated the Upland Game Bird program appropriation of $849,000
• Eliminated the Big Horn Sheep Habitat program appropriation of $460,000
• Eliminated the Fishing Access Site program appropriation of $345,000
• Reduced the state special revenue appropriation for the Migratory Bird Program by $210,000 and restricted the use of the balance to prevent land acquisition
"This does not make sense," said David Allen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. "In essence, the Legislature is both jeopardizing crucial access and habitat funding while also turning its collective back on Montana's sportsmen who have long fought for better access to public lands and improved wildlife conservation and management. It is sportsmen and women who funded these programs for the betterment of wildlife in the state."
The amendments resulted in a reduction of more than $12.5 million to FWP habitat and access programs. The money will still accrue in accounts, but since lawmakers stripped FWP of its spending authority, it would remain in a stagnant situation.
"The Bighorn Sheep Habitat Program is funded through the sale of the Governor's Bighorn Sheep License. This funding is vital in terms of enhancing failing bighorn sheep populations across Montana," said Brian Solan, president of the Montana Wild Sheep Foundation. "With Montana bighorns facing unprecedented pressures from disease, loss of habitat and poaching, the last thing they need is political interference."
The funding in question is generated by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and equipment. By law, it is earmarked solely for conservation efforts. No general fund dollars or tax dollars are at issue. Sportsmen remain concerned that politics take precedent over the stated wishes of the people who provide the funding for these critical programs.