By Jeff Hagener, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director
Our Montana outdoor heritage and traditions depend heavily on private landowners and their work to protect wildlife habitat and provide public recreational opportunities. Through their good stewardship and warm hospitality, these landowners open their gates to the public year after year, providing access to lands where habitat and the wildlife populations it supports have been conserved and enhanced. On behalf of the many hunters, anglers and others who enjoy this generosity year-round, we want to thank landowners and acknowledge their important contributions.
The strong traditions and outdoor heritage of this state depend heavily on these landowners, who own approximately 62 percent of Montana's 93 million acres. Through their efforts, private lands throughout the state sustain abundant wildlife populations. Many times, these management commitments go unnoticed by the public, but have a tremendous impact on wildlife.
This year, many irrigators voluntarily stopped using water to protect several Montana fisheries. Every year, we are seeing more landowners set aside critical wildlife habitat so that it will be available when needed. Dozens of landowners have established different grazing, fencing, and water systems to benefit a variety of wildlife species.
Many FWP programs are designed to encourage and support the good stewardship and public recreational access provided by private landowners. Programs like Habitat Montana, the Upland Game Bird Habitat Enhancement Program, and Future Fisheries help landowners design long-term habitat protection programs through voluntary conservation easements and habitat development projects.
Programs like Block Management and Access Montana offer incentives to private landowners to provide access and help manage the impacts associated with public hunting use. FWP also supplies many landowners who are not in any formal access program with signs, permission books, and other access-related assistance. The Livestock Loss Reimbursement Program provides reimbursement for livestock killed accidentally by hunters.
Many local groups like the Big Hole Watershed Committee, Madison Valley Ranchlands Committee, and the governor-appointed Private Land/Public Wildlife Council, work with FWP to generate ideas and recommendations that lead to resource solutions in the field. Ranchers and farmers also work individually with local game wardens or biologists to explore ideas for managing local wildlife populations or recreational access.
Landowners, recreationists, and FWP form a natural alliance in this state dedicated to protecting and enhancing wildlife and fish populations and the habitats they need to survive. This alliance in large measure has helped keep Montana the treasure it is. The holiday season seems an appropriate time to once again say, "Thank you, private landowners, for your generosity and your commitment to helping maintain Montana's outdoor heritage and traditions."