Responses to a survey released Thursday show strong support for increasing taxes in Montana to fund conservation projects. At the same time, respondents said they want out-of-staters to pay more.
The survey comes from the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project, a coalition of odd bed-fellows advocating for more public funding for recreational and working lands in Montana. The project’s members include the Montana Snowmobile Association, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, The Nature Conservancy, Blue Cross Blue Shield, private businesses and a range of advocacy groups.
Together, they spent the past year polling 11-thousand Montanans on what they value about the state’s public lands and outdoor recreation and how to fund conservation.
"83 percent of the people who responded to our survey said they would support more dedicated funding for the great outdoors, even if that means increasing some state taxes," says Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation and a Project ambassador.
Chadwick says while a majority of respondents supported more public funding to secure access to public lands, preserve water quality and protect areas to hunt and fish, Montanans also want tourists to pay more, too.
"We know that people come from all over the world to visit Montana and to enjoy our outdoors and some of us are lucky enough to live here year round," he says. "But we shouldn't be the ones expected to carry the whole burden of conserving our outdoors and protecting access."
The new report suggests state policy changes, like expanding current sales tax options for gateway communities and setting higher fees for out-of-state second homeowners.
It also shows hunters’ and anglers’ desire for other user groups to share the cost of conservation. The report suggests a sales tax on outdoor recreation gear, similar to federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear, and creating new user fees for other types of outdoor activities.
Ambassadors for the Outdoor Heritage Project say state lawmakers made strides in recent years by passing bills that increased light motor vehicle registration fees to fund grants for trails, state parks and fishing access site maintenance. Recent legislation also restored funding to Habitat Montana, a state conservation program.
Project ambassador and rancher Cole Mannix says the coalition’s next step is talking to lawmakers about other policy changes that could raise money for public land use and conservation.
"What we have is not an accident," Mannix says. "It has taken resources in the past to get us to where we are now. And it will also take increased funding in the future. There was a lot of agreement on that."