Governor Gianforte Announces Public Lands Program Focused on Better Access and Management

Earlier this week at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) headquarters in Missoula, Governor Greg Gianforte announced the pillars of his Public Lands Program to improve access and better manage Montana’s public lands. Amanda Kaster, director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and Hank Worsech, director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), joined the RMEF governor.

“Protecting our way of life means protecting the things that make Montana, Montana. Our rich outdoor heritage, our vast public lands and our abundant natural resources are just a few of them, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come. are following us,” Governor Gianforte said at a press conference. “I look forward to working with our partners, in the legislature and across the state, to increase access to and better manage our public lands.”

The governor recalled his inaugural speech in January 2021, when he laid out four fundamental principles to guide the work of his administration. Among the four is protecting Montana’s way of life, including its public lands.

“How do we do that? Well, we have to be good stewards of the lands that we have,” the governor said. “Montanese people don’t want to climb over and around dying, dead, and fallen woods when hiking or hunting. Unfortunately, on too many acres of land people have to.”

The governor described his administration’s emphasis on active forest management. Last year, the state more than doubled the number of wooded acres under treatment.

“However, we cannot do it alone. We need our partners around the table,” insisted the governor. “Over the coming year, we will continue to work with our partners to bring more state, federal, tribal and private woodlot acres under active management.”

Beyond the woodlands, the governor also provided an update on modernizing the state’s 27-year-old drought management plan. The overhaul, which will help Montana better meet the challenges of the drought, will be completed next spring.

“As we better manage our public lands for the 21st century, we are also increasing Montananese access to them,” the governor said.

“The benefits of public access cannot be overstated,” he continued. “Improving public access helps drive long-term, sustainable economic growth, especially in our rural communities.”

The governor has touted several successes in office to increase public access, including on the lower Yellowstone River.

Working with the Legislature last year, Governor Gianforte secured $4 million in funding to invest in improving access to the Lower Yellowstone River Corridor (LYRC). The LYRC Advisory Committee, a citizen group sponsored by the Governor and convened by the FWP, provided recommendations on how best to use the funds to increase access.

“The best part of this project was its bottom-up and grassroots approach,” the governor said. “The more affected local communities are involved, the better the results.”

Work identifying access deserts on Lower Yellowstone has inspired a new statewide effort the governor announced today.

“If we can identify access deserts on lower Yellowstone, why can’t we do it on every navigable river in the state? There’s no reason we can’t, so we we are,” the governor said.

Under the direction of the director of FWP Worsech, the agency maps access deserts on every navigable river in Montana. The results will inform state strategies to increase access to waterways.

The governor also celebrated a recent victory on public lands, with the state’s purchase of a 5,677-acre ranch in Golden Valley County from Shodair Children’s Hospital. The acquisition will create the Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area and provide Montana residents with access to more than 100,000 acres of state and federal land that was largely inaccessible to the public.

“Not only does this land provide exceptional hunting opportunities, with excellent habitat and access to heard Big Snowies elk, but it will also remain available for cattle grazing,” noted the governor, emphasizing the importance of keeping ranchers in the landscape.

Kyle Weaver, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, praised the purchase saying, “When we talk about access, as the governor said, we’re not just talking about any access, we’re talking about security, truly accessible access, and that’s the key to this project. This is a huge win for all of us here.

The governor’s press conference was the fifth in a series of events to unveil priorities ahead of the next legislative session which will convene in January.

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