Missoulian: Sportsmen, public land advocates say conservation under ‘assault’

During a conference call with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., last week, a group of sportsmen and public land advocates painted a bleak picture for the future of Montana’s wild country.

“It’s like an assault on everything that’s in conservation,” said Bill Geer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Climate, water, land conservation – it’s like they don’t believe in anything in conservation. It’s not hard to imagine there’s a bunch of guys getting together and saying, ‘Let’s gut everything that gets in the way of business.’ ”

The complaints ranged from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is allowed to get about $900 million a year from off-shore oil and gas leases but is only budgeted for a 10th of that, to an amendment that would block recovery efforts for bighorn sheep if they interfered with domestic livestock grazing permits.

The callers also objected to the near-elimination of a fund that works to support rare animals like sage grouse before they are placed on the endangered species list.

“I know we are in a difficult financial situation and we have to get that house in order,” Tester said. “But you can’t cut the legs out of things that increase revenue.”

Outdoor recreation contributes more than $1 billion to Montana’s economy and more than $14 billion nationwide, Tester said. And that industry depends on healthy public lands, bountiful wildlife and support for the people who keep things that way.

But public land management also costs money in a time when money’s scarce.

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