By Justin Schaaf - March 18, 2019 - Originally Published in the Billings Gazette
Montana’s 30-year-old conservation program, Habitat Montana, is currently under attack – again.
Last year, landowners and sportsmen saw the dark side of politics with a disappointing show of power from State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton when they voted to delay a conservation easement indefinitely. In response, the Montana Supreme Court voted 6-1 in support of keeping political gamesmanship out of the conservation easement approval process by not requiring easements to go before the State Land Board.
Yet, Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, now is pitting himself against sportsmen with HB265, which would undermine the Montana Supreme Court and require all easements over 100 acres to go before the five-person political body.
Habitat Montana is funded by a combination of hunting license revenues and matching federal funds. These conservation easements go through an arduous vetting process that can take up to two years. Public input is accepted at every step from the initial scoping process and the town hall-type meetings to the final review before the FWP commission.
Public access is the No. 1 issue for sportsmen forgoing time afield. It’s shameful that some in Helena are trying to make one of our greatest tools in increasing hunter access and opportunity even more cumbersome. We certainly do not need more bureaucratic hoops for landowners and Fish, Wildlife & Parks to jump through. I encourage our legislators to stand up for habitat conservation, public access and small government, and vote no on HB265.
Justin Schaaf is the Region 6 Board Member for the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He lives in Fort Peck.