An unusual bi-partisan congressional initiative that holds the promise of increased funding for wildlife and family recreation in Montana is getting enthusiastic support from the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission.
The congressional bills (HR701 and S25), are each known as "CARA," or the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999.
The House's bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Congressmen Don Young (R-AK), John Dingell (D-MI), Billy Tauzin (R-LA), Chris John (D-LA) and 53 others representing 24 states and one territory, would dedicate more than half of the annual federal revenues from offshore gas and oil leases--projected at $4.59 billion in the year 2000--into three separate funds: Title I would provide for the protection and restoration of coastal habitats and living resources; Title II would fund land and water conservation activities at all levels of government; and Title III would provide funding for states to conserve fish and wildlife resources and provide recreational opportunities for the nation's citizens.
"CARA has our full and enthusiastic support," said FWP Commission Chairman Stan Meyer of Great Falls. "And we hope it has the support of Senators Burns and Baucus and Representative Hill. We recognize the vital importance of providing adequate and secure funding to ensure the continued benefits that our fish, wildlife, and natural resources provide to our quality of life and to our economy."
CARA's Title III section, dedicates a percentage of federal offshore oil and gas revenues to states for wildlife programs. It provides funding for species threatened with extinction, for which no permanent funding currently exists.
The legislation also would provide states with funding for outdoor recreation projects. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, originally passed in 1965, once provided funding for improvements to city and county parks and for state parks like Bannack, Pictograph Caves, and Makoshika. Over the years, however, LWCF funding diminished and in 1995 funding ceased entirely.
"These funds are critical to our ability to meet the growing demand for quality, low-cost, family recreation in Montana," FWP Commissioner David W. Simpson stated in a letter to Sen.Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). "LWCF traditionally provided an important (funding) component of our state parks and recreation program."
Congress passed the Wildlife Conservation Act in 1980 to provide funding to states for species which are often overlooked and may become imperiled. Congress never funded the act and, despite an increase in the number of endangered species, funding for Montana's federally listed species has declined every year for the past 10 years to a low of $45,000 in 1997.
Commissioner Chairman Meyer said he has become increasingly concerned over the decline in migratory song birds, such as Montana's state bird, the meadow lark and about an apparent lack of knowledge about species like the swift fox and prairie dog which has led to petitions to list them under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"Funding for a better resource-information base, assistance to landowners who provide valuable wildlife habitat, and matching grants to benefit recreational activities in Montana cities and towns are all addressed in these important legislative packages," Meyer said. "We hope our congressional leaders pay close attention to these bills that could benefit Montana for years to come."