OPINION: Is it September yet?

By  - August 30, 2018 - Originally published in the Independent Record.

 

“Is it September yet?”

It’s a common phrase uttered by archery hunters in Montana. It’s a rhetorical question used to express not our inability to read a calendar but rather our excitement for the upcoming season. We wait all year for this.

Come Sept. 1, we hunters don backpacks and carry primitive weapons deep into our public lands for the archery season opener. Bow season is early in the fall before elk have started their concentrated migrations. They’re spread out across our vast and mountainous public lands, creating quite the challenge for archery hunters. Yet, nothing can beat bugling in a feisty bull at the peak of the rut, miles into some pristine backcountry.

Montanans enjoy the most liberal general archery season in the country – six weeks followed by five weeks of general rifle – and this is thanks to plentiful public lands providing backcountry security habitat. Big game needs big country, and fortunately, we have that, but not by accident.

On the flip side, due to having more inaccessible public lands than any other state, access remains the number one issue for Montana sportsmen and sportswomen. For hunters living in Eastern Montana like myself, this is particularly frustrating due to the proliferation of checkerboarded public lands that we cannot access. One of the most important tools we have in Montana for ensuring hunting access and plenty of room to roam for wildlife is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF utilizes royalties from offshore oil and gas extraction – not taxes – to help fund access projects, wildlife habitat, and more. In fact, three quarters of Montana’s fishing access sites, and more than 800 sport fields and playgrounds were funded or supported by LWCF dollars.

Unfortunately, our nation’s most successful conservation program – that hunters and anglers depend upon every day – is at risk. It’s up to our elected officials to save it.

For over a decade, Montana’s senior Senator Jon Tester has championed for LWCF, co-signing numerous pieces of legislation and continuously delivering the message to D.C. decision makers that Montana’s sportsmen and sportswomen demand full funding and permanent reauthorization.

Until recently, Senator Steve Daines was more ambiguous on his support of LWCF, pushing national parks maintenance instead of LWCF, a program that touches each and every Montanan. Recently, however, Sen. Daines joined Sen. Tester in co-sponsoring S. 569, which would permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF. Hunters across the Big Sky State share a hearty thanks to Sen. Daines for supporting a program that has enabled the addition or access to countless acres of Montana’s hunting woods.

Now, it’s up to our entire Montana delegation to put their words into action and influence their colleagues on Capital Hill to pass S. 569 and save LWCF. Under Trump’s proposed budget, LWCF funding would be slashed by over 90 percent, a budget that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke somehow supports. With prime elk, deer, bear, sage grouse and moose habitat being snatched up by private landowners or sold for development, there is no greater task for Montana hunters and anglers than protecting and growing our public lands…for everyone’s enjoyment.

Permanent reauthorization and full funding for LWCF is not an option for Montana hunters. It’s a must. We’ll be watching and supporting our Montana delegation to find a swift resolution for LWCF before the program expires on September 30, 2018.

Is it September yet?

Not quite, but the clock is ticking. The time for action is now.

 

Tyler Houston is an avid bowhunter and a life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He, his wife and their twin daughters live in Billings.

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