Opposed to transfer of federal lands

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The Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society is strongly opposed to the transfer of Montana’s federal lands to the state, county, private corporations, or individuals. The transfer is likely to hinder science-based wildlife management; reduce hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities; and erode the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which is a successful wildlife management framework based upon key principles of wildlife as the public trust and science-based management.

Approximately 29 percent of Montana’s 94.1 million acres are federally owned. These lands provide for hunting, fishing, grazing, outdoor recreation, and the exercise of treaty-reserved rights by American Indian tribes. Montana does not have a clear financial position to support the additional workload of this resource stewardship nor a large and highly-trained workforce to cover management of these existing federal lands. Without this clear financial position, there will likely be a reduction in the quality and scale of management. Montana may explore a variety of cost-cutting and revenue-generating measures that may come at the expense of public hunting and other recreational access opportunities and the application of science based natural resource management.

Montana state trust land managers have a fiduciary obligation to generate revenues for designated trust beneficiaries, such as public schools. In contrast, federal public lands are managed for a broader set of values in the national interest beyond maximizing revenues from land management. Federal land laws have an unmistakable emphasis on wildlife conservation and the protection of habitat. With few exceptions, states do not have the legislative framework or funding necessary to adequately conserve wildlife and its habitat on public lands.

The North American Model holds that wildlife are a national public trust. Ecosystems are not held to political boundaries and are connected beyond Montana’s borders. Federal lands management provides for larger scale, interstate management and firm regulatory direction for wildlife conservation. Montana contains over 250 species of migratory birds, includes two international flyways for migratory bird species, shares four grizzly bear recovery ecosystems with other states, has numerous deer, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, pronghorn and elk herds that migrate seasonally across Montana’s borders. As a public and national resource, conserving wildlife and its habitat requires a larger perspective that transcends state jurisdictions and is an essential ingredient in sound scientific management.

The position of the Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society is to:

• Emphasize collaboration for more effective and efficient science-based management amongst federal and state agencies, county and local jurisdictions, American Indian tribes, private landowners and businesses, lessees of federal lands, non-governmental organizations, and other groups.

• Encourage more strategically approaching federal lands planning, wildlife management, habitat conservation and endangered species recovery.

• Strongly state that all lands currently under federal management shall remain under federal management to maximize the benefits of these lands to wildlife, science, and society as a whole.

• Support federal and state funding at levels necessary for effective habitat and wildlife conservation.

• Support the continued participation of local residents in land management process through the communication of science-based information, particularly in areas where federally-managed lands make up a large proportion of the landscape.

• Recognize that federal land management can and should be improved through careful consideration of the best available science, the proper allocation of necessary resources, openness and clarity of actions, and continued support for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

Vanna Boccadori, of Butte writes as president on behalf of the Montana chapter of The Wildlife Society, a professional organization of 300-plus wildlife biologists, professors, and students from across the state. She was joined in signing this letter by Mark Ruby, past president, of Kalispell; Kelvin Johnson, president-elect, of Glasgow; Megan O’Reilly, treasurer, of Billings; and Dan Bachen, secretary, of Helena.

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