By Nicky Ouellet - March 18, 2019 - Originally published at Montana Public Radio.
A coalition of wildlife, conservation and outdoor recreation business groups has launched an effort to find ways to fund conservation and maintenance projects on public lands.
Eric Melson says the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project is trying to hear from 10,000 Montanans on what they value about the state’s public lands and outdoor recreation, and how those values should be funded.
"The idea is to collect a lot of information from community conversations like this and then tell everybody what we're hearing," Melson said.
Melson is a volunteer with the Outdoor Heritage Project, which held its sixth of 50 planned community conversations over beers and snacks at Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell Friday night.
He points to a $22 million backlog for Montana State Parks maintenance projects and waning funding for trails maintenance and wildlife as troublesome statistics for a state that sees $7.1 billion in consumer spending on outdoor recreation.
"I think there's a lot of individual conversations going on within these sectors," he said. "We're trying to tie those all together and say all of these things are important, they're all related. How can a single tide rise all boats?"
The 20 people at Kalispell’s conservation Friday expressed a wide variety of interests and at times opposing values when it comes to managing and funding Montana’s outdoor recreation opportunities.
"We cannot continue to have three million people come into Glacier Park and not — exploit it and ruin it," one attendee said.
But they agreed recreation deserves more funding.
Some suggested establishing a dedicated fund akin to Colorado, where revenue from Colorado Lottery ticket sales is funneled into preserving and maintaining state parks. Others suggested reallocating existing funding, better enforcement of fee collection and new taxes as potential strategies.
The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project includes the Montana State Parks Foundation, Business for Montana's Outdoors and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, as well as the Montana Wilderness Association and The Nature Conservancy. It plans to release a report in October based on feedback from the community conversations.
The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project will host a community conversation at Miles City Community College, Room 106 on Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m.