Montanans have long valued the state’s wide-open landscape. The state has benefited greatly from the ability of ranching, farming and forestry to utilize these lands in economically productive ways that can be compatible and even synergistic with wildlife presence. This has been a powerful alignment of incentives for conservation. Meanwhile, the state would not be what it is today without decades of conservation effort to alleviate some of the challenges and pressures that wildlife brings to working lands businesses, to plan for winter range and refuge, research wildlife behavior, and inform land management practices.
In recent years, the use of GPS collars has further expanded our understanding of the need for wildlife to move seasonally, underscoring the importance of an intact landscape and the working land that connects public land. The same tools have also exposed the unintended ways in which human activity and development can disrupt these behaviors, with potentially disastrous consequences for the health of individual animals and the viability to private working land.
Here in Montana, we benefit greatly from the leadership of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks on this issue. Late last year the agency adopted strategies that further clarify how wildlife movement and migration conservation is incorporated into existing conservation efforts. Sportsmen and women applauded this effort as evidence of the shared commitment by state officials, private landowners, and everyday Montanans who care about the state’s wildlife resources to find common ground and address challenges faced by various stakeholders. But keep in mind there’s still and always will be differences in opinion between private landowners who provide habitat and the public stakeholders who want more elk or apex predators as to how many is enough. Thankfully, FWP provides opportunities for those folks to come together to understand each other’s concerns through citizen advisory councils and public meetings.
In addition to this work, FWP has also made significant gains in the realm of public education and outreach. The agency launched a new web resource that explains the importance of this conservation challenge and includes information about the history of the issue, the role of private lands, and the agency’s overall strategy. And the latest issue of Montana Outdoors, a monthly magazine published by FWP, included an outstanding feature, “Moving Right Along,” that should be required reading for anyone interested in this topic. Given the complexity and multidimensional nature of wildlife movements, a well-informed public is critical to provide the agency with the support it needs to ensure our big game herds can continue to safely move across a rapidly changing landscape. We commend FWP staff for the work thus far and encourage continued efforts to inform the public about wildlife movement in Montana.
It is no exaggeration to say that our state’s outdoor traditions and a significant portion of its economy depend on the ability of elk, mule deer, antelope, and other wildlife to move between the seasonal habitats they depend on for survival. Looking ahead, we have the opportunity to bring investments to our great state and create durable solutions for two important Montana values — working land and wildlife habitat. These are not only compatible values, but values that rely on the other. Let’s champion private landowner solutions for economical operations that accommodate wildlife and maintain the Montana brand that draws people and jobs to our great state — working lands and healthy wildlife populations.
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