Montana’s Wildlife Mitigation Program is designed to mitigate the wildlife impacts caused by construction of Libby and Hungry Horse Dams. These two federal hydroelectric facilities, located in northwestern Montana, provide cost-effective, renewable energy to electrical consumers in the Pacific Northwest. But the dams also caused the direct loss of 56,700 acres of land that were home to deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bears, and a variety of other native wildlife.
The 96th Congress recognized the benefits and impacts of the Columbia River federal hydropower system with the passage of the 1980 Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act. This law established the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and charged it with developing a program to balance cost-effective power supply with a program to offset impacts to fish and wildlife habitat affected by hydroelectric development. The act also stipulates that Bonneville Power Administration should fund the program through revenues they collect from the sale of electricity.
In 1988, the state of Montana and Bonneville Power Administration entered into an agreement that transferred $12.5 million from Bonneville to a legislatively established state trust account for the purpose of paying for wildlife mitigation projects in Montana. The 60-year agreement is based on impact assessments completed by Fish, Wildlife & Parks in 1984.
Over the past 23 years, Fish, Wildlife & Parks has completed mitigation projects on more than four times the total acres lost under Koocanusa and Hungry Horse reservoirs. Consequently, we believe that we have fully met the mitigation losses described under the 1988 agreement. The state trust account continues to produce income that is used to maintain past mitigation projects. Revenue in excess of our maintenance need is available to fund additional projects within the Columbia River Basin of Northwest Montana, to further offset impacts caused by the development of Libby and Hungry Horse Dams.
Our current priority for new projects target species and habitats identified in the original mitigation plans, which are underrepresented in our previous projects. Unfortunately, ongoing management costs and current investment returns provide only a few thousand dollars each year for new projects. So our strategy is to leverage those dollars through partnerships with other organizations that have overlapping objectives in order to continue benefiting the priority species and habitats impacted by development of Libby and Hungry Horse Dams.