Opinion: Montana’s land and water needs more dedicated funding
Can you feel it? Spring is in the air. Longer days and warmer weather are on the horizon, and Blackfoot river fishing guides and outfitters are beginning to prepare for the oncoming guiding season - tying new fly patterns, patching waders, and dialing in our gear before the skwala hatch. Soon, we'll be sliding boats into the water and taking guests on trips of their lifetimes.
And we aren’t the only ones. Montanans and tourists alike turned to public lands and waters more than ever in 2020. As COVID curtailed many of our activities last spring and summer, visitors and locals gratefully sought relief in the outdoors. Montana also saw an influx of people relocating to Montana, putting additional pressure on our public lands and outdoor facilities.
Our precious rivers couldn't keep pace last year. Our land and water need more dedicated state investments to keep up with demand for public access and facilities.
But we're in luck, as a once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity has presented itself and we would be foolish to not take advantage. In November, Montanans voted overwhelmingly to establish a new revenue stream to enhance state parks and trails, conserve public lands, and boost river access and facilities through I-190 marijuana tax revenue. We're talking big money too, estimated at over $25-million dollars, annually. Funding that would help maintain and steward rivers like the iconic Blackfoot, luckily our "home office".
Specifically, this new funding could be used to invest in new conservation easements that have been used with great success in the past to protect working lands and riparian zones in the Blackfoot Valley and other special places. It could be used to augment and enhance public access and fishing access sites, which are in high demand along the river corridor. It could be used by wildlife managers to help manage non-game species and as a source of funding for local groups looking to enhance public trails.
Blackfoot outfitters and guides want to avoid a situation like we observed in 2020. The best way to do so is to invest in the stewardship and caretaking of our rivers – dedicated funding will not only benefit our industry but the general public who rely on the same resources as well. That's why we're calling on Representative Mike Hopkins, who represents the Blackfoot river corridor, to ensure that our livelihood and the Blackfoot river has the funding it needs to combat overuse and abuse.
Representative Hopkins probably already knows this, but within his district (HD92) there are twenty-three Fishing Access Sites, three State Parks and four Habitat Montana conservation easements - all of which will benefit tremendously from I-190 revenue going to its intended purpose.
Representative Hopkins has an opportunity to lead, and champion the effort to direct new funding to these incredible assets. Not only will it benefit his constituents, and Montana's outdoor economy, which contributes $2.5 billion annually and employs 31,598 people (us included!), but by supporting new investments in our great outdoors, Representative Hopkins can honor the will of the voters.
Honoring the original intent of the I-190 revenue is an important way to support our critical and growing outdoor industry in Montana and invest in the next generation. We invite Representative Hopkins to join us on the water this spring, so he can see with his own eyes how loved the Blackfoot River is, and how he needs to act on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in protecting Montana's special places.
Tony Reinhardt: Montana Trout Outfitters
Russell Parks: Missoula Fly Fishing Outfitters
Tom Jenni: Tom Jenni's Reel Montana
Adam Spenner: Missoula Troutfitters
Scott Stanko: Independent Guide
Jeff Lukas: Independent Guide
Zach Scott: Independent Guide