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Report: MT Outdoor Funding Needs Outpacing Investment

A new report finds funding for Montana's state parks is lagging their maintenance needs by more than $25 million. (William Neuheisel/Wikimedia Commons)
A new report finds funding for Montana's state parks is lagging their maintenance needs by more than $25 million. (William Neuheisel/Wikimedia Commons)
July 29, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – A new report finds the needs of Montana's outdoors are eclipsing the funding to meet them.

The Headwaters Economics and the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project report looks at state parks, trails, wildlife and working lands, and finds funding demands are outpacing the money from state and federal governments.

For instance, to support wildlife-related recreation, including wildlife watching, fishing and hunting, more than $15 million is needed.

Kelly Pohl, communications director for Headwaters Economics, says Montana's state parks have an infrastructure backlog of more than $25 million.

"And that doesn't even account for new obligations that we might want to try and accomplish given that our state's population is growing, and there's increased use in these recreation amenities across Montana," she states.

State parks host 2.5 million visitors a year and visitation has increased by 40% in the last decade, according to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The report also finds trails are in need of roughly $7 million, and funding for conservation proposals from Montana landowners fell nearly $12.5 million short.

The report notes Montana could look to the ways other states have solved this issue. Thirty-six states have funding programs for conservation or outdoor recreation, generating money from sources such as a lottery or oil and gas revenue.

Pohl says the most successful programs include investments in a range of outdoor opportunities, and are transparent and publicly accountable.

She says the outdoors is important to local economies and Montanans' sense of community.

"I think only in the last few decades have we seen that our state's growth in population and in visitation has begun to outpace the investments that we're making,” she states. “So, we may just be lagging a little bit behind some of our neighboring states, but the longer we wait, the harder it will be to catch up."

Pohl adds these numbers are conservative, and don't include, for instance, communities that didn't submit funding proposals because of some limitation, such as a lack of matching funds. The numbers also can't be added together because of overlap in the four categories studied.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT