A survey aimed at gauging whether more dedicated spending is needed to improve Montana’s outdoor way of life found a strong appetite among residents for new funding mechanisms to protect wildlife, improve public access and conserve working lands.
The findings by the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project are based on a statewide public outreach effort that solicited input from one percent of the state’s population, including 50 community conversations and 11,000 individual survey responses collected from Montana residents between May and September.
The survey was prompted by an earlier report by the organization and Headwater Economics that found 95 percent of Montanans say outdoor recreation is important to their quality of life and 71 percent consider themselves conservationists.
A majority of survey respondents — 83 percent — say they would support more dedicated funding, even if it means increasing some state taxes.
In addition to more funding, Montanans suggested they would like to see more public-private partnerships created to address conservation needs, forums to give communities more input into how funding is spent and better education opportunities for visitors and youth.
According to the report, Montana’s outdoor heritage is a shared value regardless of where participants live, how much money they make, or whether they use the outdoors for work or play.
The survey found that protecting wildlife habitat and ensuring public access are the top issues to address in the state, according to the 11,000 Montanans who were asked to rank funding priorities.
Eighty-six percent of those surveyed say loss of access is the most critical challenge facing the state’s outdoor heritage.
When asked to rank how funding should actually be allocated, protection of fish and wildlife was the most important priority, according to 81 percent of survey respondents, followed by water quality improvements (73 percent), invasive species control (69 percent), improving access to public lands (63 percent), and protecting places to hunt and fish (57 percent).
When it comes to creating new revenue to invest in these priorities, participants generally agreed that out-of-state visitors should be asked to contribute a higher share of new funding compared with state residents. Suggestions included giving gateway communities more leeway to impose a sales tax on visitors and higher fees on out-of-state second homeowners or vacation homes.
There was also agreement that Montana should diversify user revenue beyond the sale of hunting and fishing licenses by asking more outdoor users to invest in land and wildlife protection. Suggestions included a sales tax on outdoor gear and new user fees or licenses for non-hunting and non-fishing outdoor activities, like hiking and biking.
Members of the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project said they are hopeful some of the ideas will eventually advance into state policy, but cautioned it will take additional work. The team, which consists of about 40 volunteer ambassadors and staff from supporting organizations, plans to share survey results with lawmakers and decision-makers in coming months to encourage further conversation and action in advance of the 2021 legislative session.
For more information about the survey, visit Montanaheritageproject.com