Funding the Future

FWP at a crossroads.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, through its employees and citizen commission, provides for the stewardship of the fish, wildlife, parks, and recreational resources of Montana, while contributing to the quality of life for present and future generations.

This is FWP’s official mission… but what does it really mean?

To a biologist, it means stomach-churning surveys from an airplane in the depths of winter, or shocking fish on the Yellowstone in a driving rain. It means talking to landowners when an elk herd overwhelms private property. It means managing a game-check station on weekends, or helping a wounded deer in the wee hours. It means nearly constant monitoring of Arctic grayling fry as part of a restoration effort. It also means becoming an expert at mapping applications, hosting public meetings, and analyzing inconceivable amounts of data.

To a game warden, it means being prepared for the unexpected—on any given day, he or she might be asked to respond to a bear or mountain lion encounter. It means contacting dozens of anglers, hunters, and outfitters. A warden might also follow up on a poaching tip, assist another state agency on an urgent call, or speak to the local 4H club. And that “problem” marmot in your back yard… guess who checks on that, too.

Fact is, no two days look alike—and for most FWP folks, that’s the best part of the job. The same is true for fisheries technicians, wolf and bear specialists, wildlife-area managers… the list goes on.

And therein lies the rub. This wide range of positions and programs costs money. Lots of it. But FWP receives virtually nothing from the state’s general fund to manage fish and wildlife. The sale of fishing and hunting licenses funds the majority of the agency’s operations; the rest comes from federal taxes on hunting- and fishing-related equipment. With recent increases in operating expenses, and no license-fee increase in nearly ten years, FWP faces a serious budget crisis. If things don’t change by 2017, the agency won’t be able to cover its costs.

Addressing this concern, a citizen advisory council made eight recommendations to sustain funding for the long term, primarily involving increased license fees. FWP supports these recommendations, and the final decision—and the future of FWP’s financial situation—will be in the hands of the 2015 legislature. (According to Montana law, all license-fee increases must be approved by the state legislature.)

The recommendations affecting Montana residents involve standardizing discounted licenses, changing age limits for certain discounted licenses, adding a base hunting license, and increasing the cost of fishing licenses. For most of us, this translates to $8 more per year to hunt, and $6 more to fish. For FWP it means a lot more. It means preserving and protecting the last best place for future generations.

Andrea Jones is the FWP Region 3 Information and Education Program Manager.