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Wildlife Habitat Improvement program is good for Montana

Montana’s farmers, ranchers and hunters have been partners for decades in conserving and managing our treasured wildlife. For years we’ve shared this working relationship because we’re neighbors and we understand that together, hunters and landowners can achieve positive results for both wildlife and the land that they reside on.

That cooperative relationship was on display last year when ranchers, farmers, county weed districts and even county commissioners worked alongside hunters, anglers and the broader conservation community to establish the Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement program. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, allows a portion of the federal funds that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks receives to be used for habitat improvement projects that would fight noxious weeds on private and public lands.

We all know that weeds take a heavy toll on wildlife habitat. Noxious weeds crowd out native grasses and shrubs, which means less forage for deer, elk and other wildlife. They can make areas that once supported abundant wildlife far less productive, putting greater pressure on landowners with irrigated fields and good wildlife habitat as those animals seek the best feed. Noxious weeds, like wildlife, know no boundaries either. Often times weed infestations that start on one piece of land get transported to other pieces of land, meaning that fighting weeds isn’t just a private or public land problem, but a Montana problem.

Weeds might not be as high profile an issue as some, but conservationists and landowners alike know that they are a threat to the productivity of the lands where we live, work and play, whether they’re public or private.  

The Wildlife Habitat Improvement program is a prime example of a solid public/private partnership with broad benefits for everyone. Under the program, applicants receive a three-to-one match for either their dollars, or in-kind labor to enact a weed management program. 

It includes measures that ensure the projects are effective, and a good use of public dollars. Every project is reviewed by a committee with diverse interests, including sportsmen, agricultural producers and weed districts. Every project must go through public scrutiny and be approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. That gives Montanans assurance that the projects will have tangible benefits for habitat and wildlife. 

All Montanans have an interest in preventing the spread of noxious weeds, while working to restore existing infestations to a more diverse and resilient plant community. It’s a daunting proposition, but with teamwork we can make progress. The Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement program represents the best of what makes Montana, Montana. We come together to solve problems and we work to help our neighbors. This kind of common sense collaboration is what it takes to respect all views while advancing positive programs that benefit all Montanans and our shared wildlife heritage. 

Nick Gevock is the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. Cole Mannix is the advancement director for the Western Landowners Alliance. 


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