The news that the Flathead Basin Commission is a fiscal orphan, cast off by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, is worrisome indeed.
In the past year, the importance of the commission to Northwest Montana has been demonstrated convincingly in the emergency response launched to protect our waters and our native species from quagga mussels and other aquatic invaders.
We understand the budget crisis that led us to this situation, but we find it hard to believe that there are not better candidates for massive cuts or elimination than a program designed to protect water quality and natural resources.
Fish, unfortunately, don’t have a vote, and so the politicians and bureaucrats in Helena must have felt secure in cutting the commission’s modest $149,000 appropriation, leaving it with only $10,000 to be used for commissioners’ travel expenses.
Local legislators have been working hard to restore funding, and it’s possible that the crisis will be short-term, but either way, it may be time to start getting serious about supporting the Basin Commission’s mission with private funding. Clearly, DNRC Director John Tubbs is not a reliable advocate for the commission, so other avenues for funding must be considered.
The number of businesses, not to mention individuals, who depend on a healthy Flathead Lake and Flathead Basin, are in the thousands. Finding a way to channel resources from those beneficiaries to the commission will be of paramount importance going forward.
The Flathead Basin Commission is a governmental entity, officially sanctioned by a 1983 law, but a non-profit arm already exists and can seek out contributions from community partners. Other important groups like the Whitefish Lake Institute survive entirely on private donations and grants, and it’s possible the Basin Commission will have to follow that example.
We have a narrow window before funding runs out, and hopefully that time will be put to good use ensuring that the commission will endure.