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14 Dec. 13-26, 2013

NATION

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Report looks at ESA’s 40th anniversary

Explore Big Sky

FWP reconsiders licensing and funding structure

BY DEBORAH COURSON SMITH BIG SKY CONNECTION

MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS

HELENA – This month includes a milestone anniversary for the Endangered Species Act. It was passed by Congress 40 years ago, and a new report from the Endangered Species Coalition marks 10 of the act’s biggest success stories. 

 According to the group’s Northern Rockies field representative, Derek Goldman, two birds seen in Montana are on that list: the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. Goldman admitted that bald eagles now seem common, but it didn’t happen by accident. 

 In 1978, it was estimated there were only 12 pairs of bald eagles in Montana. 

 “The biologists say it takes decades and decades, and what we’re seeing is that once these species gain protections by the Endangered Species Act and protections of their habitat, we’re seeing a lot of the numbers starting to improve.” Goldman said more than 1,300 species of plants, animals and fish have been protected by the ESA, and only 10 have gone extinct. The report shows that 90 percent of species covered by the ESA are recovering at the pace expected in their scientific recovery plans. Goldman explained that the human connection isn’t just the joy of seeing a wide array of species in the wild. “Those habitats are also important to us,” he said. “They’re sources of clean water, sources of food. So, when we protect endangered species, we’re also protecting places that are really important to human survival.” The southern sea otter, humpback whale, El Segundo blue butterfly and green sea turtle are also featured as success stories. The full report, “Back from the Brink,” is at endangered.org.

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HELENA – A special council is reexamining FWP’s hunting and fishing licensing system, as pertains to funding wildlife management. The Fish and Wildlife Licensing and Funding Advisory Council’s work includes simplifying the types of hunting and fishing licenses and considering the impacts of special earmarked accounts and free and discounted licenses on FWP funding. The council aims to determine a license pricing structure that provides sufficient, fair and stable revenue for fish and wildlife management. Montana’s last general resident hunting and fishing license fee increase came in 2005, and in 2003 for nonresidents. FWP fish and wildlife management programs are primarily funded via the sale of fishing and hunting licenses. A number of new ideas on how to fund fish and wildlife management in Montana for the long term are also under consideration, said State Representative Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, the LFAC chairman. Possible recommendations include: • Across the board adjustments to standardize the more than 30 different free/discounted hunting and fishing licenses • A standardized age at which Montana’s youth hunting, fishing and trapping licenses are available • Evaluation of alternatives to what has been approximately a 10-year legislatively approved FWP funding cycle, such as allowing the Fish and Wildlife Commission to establish fees, or to seek more frequent, yet smaller, fee increases via the Montana Legislature

“In many ways, in this state, how we choose to fund fish and wildlife management strikes at the heart of who we are as a people,” Welborn said, encouraging others to get involved. Both the 2013 Montana Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock called for the review. The Legislature passed House Bill 609, which requires the Montana Legislature’s Environmental Quality Council to conduct a study of hunting and fishing license statutes and fees, while Bullock requested that FWP begin a public effort to create its budget for consideration by the 2015 Legislature. Appointed by FWP Director Jeff Hagener, the council is part of the agency’s effort to increase revenue and reduce spending. FWP recently implemented budget cuts, cost savings and funding shifts that will save $4.4 million annually. A license fee increase could be another part of the equation to meet the costs of managing Montana’s fish and wildlife resources in the future, Hagener said. The LFAC is scheduled to deliver recommendations by March 31, 2014. A number of statewide public meetings – and an extended public comment period – will follow in April. FWP will then prepare a budget and funding package for consideration by the 2015 Montana Legislature. The public can comment on these and other issues and find additional information, on FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov, under “Licensing and Funding Advisory Council,” or contact council members directly with ideas and comments. Their contact information is available on FWP’s website.

USA Today hosting reader’s choice contest for best ski destination USA Today is hosting an online contest for readers to vote on their favorite North American ski destination. Washington, D.C.-based freelancer Nathan Borchelt selected the nominees, which include Big Sky, as well as the following ski destinations: Aleska Resort, Aspen, Bend/Mount Bachelor, Central Maine, Colorado’s Front Range, Crested Butte, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Nelson, BC, North Tahoe, Northern Vermont, Park City, Salt Lake City, South Tahoe, Southern Colorado, Southern Vermont, Sun Valley, Vail and Whistler. The contest is open until Dec. 30, and each user can vote once a day.  

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