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Montanans Urged to Share Ideas for Funding Outdoor Access, Conservation

The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project wants to hear from at least 10,000 Montanans about public lands funding. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)
The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project wants to hear from at least 10,000 Montanans about public lands funding. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)
May 3, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – How can Montana improve funding to protect what many feel is its most important asset – the outdoors? That's what backers of the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project are asking.

The project kicked off Thursday, inviting Montanans to chime in with ideas on how to increase dedicated funding for conservation on private and public lands, wildlife management and access to outdoor recreation. The goal is to involve at least 10,000 Montanans this summer, either through community meetings or an online survey.

Christine Whitlatch, a Billings-based volunteer for the project, says this is an invitation for a diversity of folks to get involved.

"It's really exciting to have an opportunity to solicit voices from every experience,” says Whitlatch. “Every youth category, age, ability category across the state – to talk about what's important to us, what we're concerned about, what we hope we preserve and invest in, in the years to come."

Meetings are scheduled across the state this summer and the project is asking for input through September 23. The group behind the project will release survey results and public recommendations in October. The survey is at ''

Dave Chadwick, executive director with the Montana Wildlife Federation, says now is the time to talk about outdoor recreation. It's a huge economic driver for the state, but the Montana Legislature dedicated less than 5% of the state budget to safeguarding it this year.

Chadwick cites a few issues driving the need to protect the Montana way of life, starting with access to public land.

"Montana has more so-called landlocked public land than any other western state – public land that isn't accessible to the public. A million and a half acres, at least,” says Chadwick. “A lot of Montanans are concerned that our state parks aren't adequately funded. We have a $22 million backlog."

Visits to Montana State Parks have increased 34% in the past decade.

Bob Walker, executive director of the Montana Trails Coalition, says there were two bipartisan successes in the Legislature this year. One increases funding for state parks and fishing access sites; the other aims to secure access to public land.

But Walker says more needs to be done.

"The two bills I just mentioned are good starts toward addressing the rising demand for parks and trails and access, but it's just not enough,” says Walker. “Montanans need to keep working together to find more solutions, and I think the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project is the right way to do it."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT