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Montana Coalition Launches Survey Of Outdoor Values

A backcountry skier scales a snowy peak in the Flathead National Forest.
Nicky Ouellet
A backcountry skier scales a snowy peak in the Flathead National Forest.

A coalition of wildlife, conservation and outdoor recreation business groups in Montana has announced it’s launching a survey to determine support and strategies to fund conservation and access projects.

The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project formed late last year with a goal to gather opinions from 10,000 Montanans on what they value about the state’s public lands and outdoor recreation, and how those values should be funded.

On Thursday, the Project launched a public survey that will guide recommendations to be released this October.

Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said on a press call that Montana’s outdoor resources fuel the state’s economy.

"As much as we love our outdoors in Montana, it's not what we're spending our money on," he says.

Chadwick points to a $22 million backlog in State Parks maintenance projects and 1.5 million acres of inaccessible public lands as issues that need to be tackled now for the benefit of future generations.

Bob Walker is the executive director of the Montana Trails Coalition. He applauded two bills lawmakers passed this session that use an increased, opt-out fee on light motor vehicle registration to fund state park, trails and fishing access site maintenance and another that incentivizes landowners to grant access to landlocked public lands.

"The two bills I just mentioned are a good start toward addressing the rising demand for parks and trails and access, but it's just not enough," Walker says. "Montanans need to keep working together to find more solutions."

Other states have harnessed lottery tax revenue, assessed new outdoor gear excise taxes and funneled general sales taxes to fund outdoor recreation and conservation projects.

The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project’s online survey asks respondents to rank perceived challenges and values, like promoting farming and ranching, clean water, access to public lands and funding state parks and trails. It also asks if respondents would support increasing taxes and for other suggestions to create or increase a dedicated funding source to “protect our outdoor heritage.”

The group will collect input from the survey and a series of statewide listening sessions through September 23. Chadwick says the input they receive will determine the content and audience for their recommendations to be released in October.

The Project draws a varied membership, from the Montana State Parks Foundation to Business for Montana's Outdoors and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, as well as the Montana Wilderness Association and The Nature Conservancy.

Copyright 2019 Yellowstone Public Radio

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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