Outdoor enthusiasts, parks and trails advocates, and hunters and anglers are pushing back on state legislation that would reallocate revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana and divert it from popular public access and conservation programs.
Montanans from across the state gathered at the State Capitol today to encourage lawmakers to honor the will of voters and fully fund outdoor programs as directed by Initiative 190, which passed last year.
The successful ballot initiative directed almost half of new revenue from the sale of adult-use marijuana to bolster popular but underfunded programs within the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
At a media event held on the Capitol steps this afternoon, supporters said a bill proposed by Rep. Mike Hopskins, R-Missoula, misses the mark because it fails to boost access to public lands, protect working ranches, and fund state parks and trails at the levels that voters intended.
“We are here to remind lawmakers that rural folks, urban folks, democrats and republicans all voted to use new revenue to expand public access, enhance our state parks, protect our wildlife legacy, and boost the outdoor economy,” said Tom Puchlerz, Board President of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
“Lawmakers need to go back to the drawing board. There is more than enough revenue to fulfill the voter mandate and invest in the other critical programs they propose.”
As part of the day’s activities in Helena, supporters also shared with lawmakers hundreds of images depicting Montanans hunting, hiking, fishing, and camping alongside personal testimonials discussing the growing need for more dedicated funding for conservation programs and public lands.
The online campaign called SaveMyGreatOudoors was organized by a coalition of Montana outdoor and conservation groups and includes billboards running throughout Helena. According to Whitney Tawney, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters, it’s a safe and creative way to provide Montanans a voice during a pandemic that has hampered public participation.
"Our shared outdoor way of life is what connects us as Montanans, pandemic or not. Today's show of support puts the voices of Montanans front and center - reminding legislators that voters from across the state and both parties directed them to fund our public lands through the passage of I-190, said Tawney."
At the press event today, several speakers addressed the need to restore the revenue to specific programs that were slated for funding through the original I-190 ballot language.
Brian Solan of the Montana Wild Sheep Foundation read a letter sent by eleven Montana hook and bullet groups urging lawmakers to allocate funding to the state’s premiere conservation program, Habitat Montana.
“These measures represent a historic opportunity to secure permanent, stable funding for conservation. It is rare that so many critical wildlife and recreational needs could be met with a single funding source. And just as important, these funds will be essential to securing matching federal dollars for these priorities,” said Solan.
Jason Howell, President of the Montana Snowmobile Association meanwhile spoke on behalf of 27 snowmobile clubs in support of restoring all voter-directed revenue for the state-sponsored Trails and Recreational Facilities Account and Grant Program which was established during the 2019 legislative session.
“As motorized recreationists we are all conservationists, and support the allocation of half of the I-190 funding to go and help maintain our access to public lands,” said Howell. “With the newly formed Trails Stewardship Grant Program back in 2019, we support enhancing the funding for all of the local groups working to build and maintain multiple use public trails across our State. There is more demand than dollars by local groups to continue to enhance our outdoor way of life.”
Anne Joliff, a taxidermist, mom, and representative of Artemis Sportswomen said I-190 was clearly intended by voters to correct severe funding deficiencies which have not kept pace with growing demands.
"I am a mother of three daughters who love the outdoors. Public lands, state parks, trail systems - these all need more funding. FWP is severely underfunded, and Montana's voters chose to correct that by passing I-190 into law,” said Joliff. “Those funds need to go where voters directed to guarantee for all of our children that Montana will remain the last best place."
A 2019 analysis from Headwaters Economics found ongoing funding needs for protecting working farms and ranches, managing fish and wildlife resources, and maintaining public recreation exceed the currently available federal, state, and private budget allocations by approximately $60 million.