On December 18, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Montana Governor Steve Bullock, State Representative Alan Doane, leaders from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), and others participated in a press conference announcing the creation of the Montana Land Access Network. The event kicked off with statements from Governor Bullock, Representative Doane, RMEF, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and was followed by a brief question and answer session with press.
The Montana Land Access Network was created legislatively during the 2017 session, via the passage of House Bill 597, sponsored by Representative Alan Doane. The Network allows an individual or organization to seek a grant from the program to secure public access through private land to public land, where there exists no other legal public access; grant applicants can also apply for grants used to enhance existing access to public land. The program, administered by the Montana Department of Natural Resources, will be funded via donations, including through voluntary checkoffs on the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses. During the press conference, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation announced they would be donating $25,000 to help initially fund the program, and Montana Wildlife Federation noted that they would also be making a financial contribution.
“We are blessed here in Montana to have access to millions of acres of public lands, but there’s always more we can do to increase that access. Access to public lands is essential for present and future generations of Montanans from all walks of life, and it’s essential for our economy,” said Governor Bullock. “The MT-PLAN provides an opportunity for Montanans to help us gain access to even more of Montana’s public lands.”
Rep. Doane further remarked, “Access to places to hunt and fish is essential to life in Montana, and the new Montana Land Access Network will help ensure that the ability of our citizens to hunt, fish, and recreate outdoors is protected. This program is yet another opportunity for outdoor organizations, private landowners, and the state of Montana to work cooperatively towards solutions that benefit all those who value our public lands and natural resources.”
“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation would like to commend Representative Alan Doane and Governor Bullock for their leadership on this issue, as well as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and others who have consistently committed to facilitating greater access to places to hunt and fish in Montana,” noted Zach Widner, CSF’s northwest states manager. “Collaborative access approaches like House Bill 597 (now a state law) are essential to ensuring that sportsmen and women will have ample opportunities to pursue their outdoor pastimes.”
“Access to quality wildlife habitat is one of the most important challenges facing hunters in Montana. All too often, land ownership patterns prevent hunters and others from accessing public lands,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “The Montana Land Access Network will provide a critical funding source to help the state, conservation organizations and private landowners work together to secure even more access. We are pleased to make a significant contribution to the network’s fund.”
Also participating in the press conference were Montana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Matt Regier, staff from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Montana Association of Land Trusts, among others.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?