The following letter was submitted for publication to the Missoulian on December 5th.
The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act has just taken another big step towards the finish line, guided by the leadership of Senator Max Baucus. Clearing a key Senate committee marks the furthest this legislation has ever advanced and positions it well for being passed by the Senate. If protected, this landscape will remain the iconic vista we all treasure as Montanans, as well as will continue to be used for grazing and other traditional uses.
This type of positive movement is giving us some faith that members of Congress are coming to their senses and hearing the clamoring of everyday Montanans and other Americans for locally generated, bipartisan solutions. The Heritage Act is important legislation for Montana sportsmen and is supported by twenty sporting groups and backcountry organizations around the state, including Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Montana Outdoors Organizations Praise LWCF Proclamation
HELENA – Montana sportsmen and women are praising the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission for today’s proclamation in support of Senator Max Baucus’ bill to reauthorize the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The LWCF uses offshore oil leases—not taxes—to invest in state and federal parks, trail systems and waterways. In Montana, the Fund is used for everything from Fishing Access Sites to making public land more accessible.
In their proclamation, fish and wildlife commissioners also called for full federal funding of LWCF to the tune of $900 million per year. Over the years, more than $17 billion has been diverted from LWCF to pay for unrelated spending. This year the U.S. House of Representatives zeroed out funding from the LWCF.
“The Commission knows well that The Land & Water Conservation Fund is responsible for over 70 percent of Montana’s Fishing Access Sites and has been used in a number of recent conservation easements and acquisitions that increase the public’s access to public resources,” said Skip Kowalski, president of the Montana Wildlife Federation. We’re extremely grateful to our Fish & wildlife Commission for taking a stand in favor of increased public access to public land & water. and the sustainable, growing economy that revolves around bountiful, responsible access. ”
The Fish and Wildlife Commission’s proclamation notes that access to public water, wildlife and land helps “ensure a vibrant, economically resilient sector of Montana’s economy.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation is responsible for pumping more than $5.8 billion into Montana’s economy every year. It also supports more than 64,000 jobs in the Treasure State.
“This bill is a common sense approach to expanding public access to the land Montanans hold dear without asking taxpayers for a dime,” said Baucus, who has been a stalwart supporter of LWCF through his 35 years in the Senate. “Outdoor heritage fuels our economy and supports jobs – investing in it today will pay dividends over the long haul.”
Baucus has said passing his Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act is one of his top priorities to accomplish before his final term ends in 2014.
What Montanans are saying about the importance of the LWCF:
Read the full proclamation below:
The Land and Water Conservation Fund(LWCF) is a Federal Programthat was established byan Act of Congressin 1964 to provide funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for the acquisition of land and water, and easements on land and water, for the benefit of all Americans. The main emphases of the fund are recreation and the protection of national natural treasures in the forms of parks and protected forest and wildlife areas.
Whereas: Montana’s Outdoor Heritage is vital to the quality of life of our citizens and the United States as a whole.
Whereas: Public Access to public water, wildlife and land help ensure a vibrant, economically resilient sector of Montana’s economy.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund has been vital in helping the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks fund operations in State Parks for the benefit and enjoyment of all Montanans and visitors to the Great State of Montana.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund is responsible for helping fund the acquisition of approximately 70% of all Fishing Access Sites in Montana.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund has been judiciously and efficiently used to ensure future hunting and angling opportunity through the purchase of strategic pieces of land.
Whereas: The Land & Water Conservation Fund has been instrumental in conserving vital habitat for Threatened and Endangered Species, ensuring their eventual delisting and return to State Management.
Whereas: The ability to connect with Montana’s outdoor spaces, publicly owned wildlife, rivers and streams is one of Montana’s greatest assets.
Whereas: the Land and Water Conservation Fund stateside assistance program has greatly improved the quality of life for all Montana citizens through projects on school playgrounds, city parks, increased recreational opportunities in towns and state lands for non-consumptive users,
Whereas: Protecting working landscapes through conservation easements ensures that farmers and ranchers will be able to pass their operations down to their children while preserving Montana’s unique and vibrant landscape.
Whereas: Senators Max Baucus & Jon Tester have long advocated for access to public lands and waters, fought for funding of the Land & Water Conservation Fund, and helped ensure Montana’s economic diversity through their stalwart championship of the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
Therefore, be it resolved in acclimation of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission acting in regular session on November 14th, 2013 in Helena Montana that the Land & Water Conservation Fund should be reauthorized with no sunset date. Be it further resolved that the United States Congress must fully fund the Land & Water Conservation Fund to the full amount of $900 million per year from offshore mineral leasing royalty without diversion to other programs.
Gayle Joslin, Montana BHA member, wildlife biologist and lifelong wildlife advocate was recently awarded Leonard and Sandy Sargent Stewardship Award through the Cinnabar Foundation. This award was given Gayle for her lifelong effort on behalf of wildlands and wildlife resources. After 32 years with Montana Dept of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Gayle has continued as a volunteer since 2007.. Having worked with a number of government agencies and their complex planning processes, Gayle generously shares that experience with a variety of non-governmental wildlife conservation groups, advocates and litigators. Much of Helena Hunters and Anglers organization’s efforts has the touch of Gayle’s work. Montana BHA and Helena Hunters and Anglers, along with Montana Wildlife Federation, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers and Clancy-Unionville Working Group, are currently working together to protect elk security and promote improved travel planning in the Helena National Forest’s portion of the Blackfoot drainage.
The following news story describes continued efforts by local Montana BHA volunteer, Frank Vitale to conserve the Whitefish Range - an area within the Flathead National Forest that Frank hunts and hikes. This story originally appeared in the Hungry Horse Newspaper August 7, 2013. For the original article, click here.
Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 8:21 am
What a great trip. Regular readers of this column will no doubt remember Frank Vitale and I debating the wilderness issue in this newspaper late last summer. That debate ended with Frank challenging me to go with him on his mules to Thompson-Seton Peak, where we would sit down and debate the issue on the mountain top. After getting Frank to agree to not only take me into the mountains but also bring me out, I accepted the challenge.
Unfortunately, the weather turned wet and cold, and we had to postpone the trip until the summer. During the winter, we were both involved in the Whitefish Range Partnership, and over the course of the meetings, we both became fully aware of the other’s feelings and concerns about wilderness. Thus, there was no big need for a mountain-top debate, but I was still anxious to take the trip and was more than happy that Frank, too, was still willing to take me.
July 28 was set as a mutually acceptable date, and I was so excited I started putting my gear together a week ahead of time. Saddlebags and boots were saddle soaped and partially packed — map, compass, slicker, pocket flask, firestarter were all packed. Early on the morning of the ride, I filled the flask with top grade single malt scotch, packed enough venison jerky to share, along with a good high-energy lunch and a plastic 2-quart container of ice. Only disappointment was my pair of cowboy boots. Could not get them soft enough to risk wearing them — wore tennis shoes instead. At the last minute, I also packed my .357 magnum Smith & Wesson revolver.
Hunters can easily access the river bottom by hiking down from the road access points or a 14 mile float thru on the WMA. In 2012, BHA members Mike Penfold, Bill Cunningham and Greg Munther floated through the WMA and camped on the WMA midway along on the float. We found deer, waterfowl, fresh grizzly tracks and even an ancient bison skull that washed out of the streambank.