The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to benefit animals, but a lot of its work also benefits people and local economies. That kind of win-win scenario has kept biologists like Jim Magee working on habitat projects for more than 30 years.

On Tuesday, the USFWS published a peer-reviewed report showing that habitat-restoration projects on private land can create almost 4,000 jobs nationwide and pump more than $327 million into local economies.

The report looked at the 2011 economic contribution of two USFWS programs — Partners for Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Program — that work with private landowners to improve habitat through several kinds of projects.

In Montana, those projects include fencing riparian areas and restoring vegetation, installing fish ladders and fish screens, creating grazing management plans and removing old infrastructure and hazardous material.

“It's a white-hat program that helps landowners learn what they can do for fish and wildlife on their properties. A lot of time, it's geared toward specific species like grizzly bears or arctic grayling, so we focus on areas like the Blackfoot or Centennial valleys where we can get the most bang for the buck,” said Greg Neudecker, Montana PFW state coordinator.

The PFW program started in 1987 after the USFWS realized that 75 percent of fish and wildlife species are produced on private lands.

“We realized if we wanted to do good things for those species, we needed to do good things for private landowners and work collectively,” Neudecker said.

Magee worked for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks on stream habitat for almost 20 years in the Centennial and Big Hole valleys, often starting at the mouth of a stream and moving his way up to the headwaters, year by year, landowner by landowner.

Three years ago, Magee joined the USFWS to continue his legacy of stream projects that are starting to improve conditions for both people and wildlife, including the arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat trout.

He's seen Rock and Swamp creeks go from being trampled and eroded by cows to being lush and healthy trout habitat.

“They're good examples of putting funding on the ground,” Magee said. “Rock Creek had been disconnected from the Big Hole (River), so trout couldn't even migrate up it if they tried. We put it back in the channel and worked with the landowner on flow conservation. We evaluate projects every five years and there's a huge difference.”

Magee said landowners benefit with more efficient water delivery, and stockowners can get more reliable stockwater and grazing resources.

All of that takes money, so the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program provides a 4:1 or 5:1 funding match to landowners and uses local contractors to do the work. The match may not be large but it's often enough money to get a project off the ground.

In 2011, the PFW program spent $247,000 on Montana projects with other businesses, landowners and partners pitching in another $1.18 million for a total of $1.5 million going into local economies.

A further breakdown shows that money supported more than 27 jobs, which paid out $1 million in wages.

Those jobs don't go away at the end of the year because biologists like Magee often have projects scheduled two or three years down the road.

“The more you target and work in a specific area, each project tends to benefit the next project. You get both a biological response and get a community-landowner response where everyone gets behind it, and it's the collective effort that's making it work,” Neudecker said.

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