HELENA, Mont. – The state’s most influential public lands advocacy organizations launched a campaign in support of CI-118 and I-190 on Monday in Helena, saying the pair of ballot measures that work together to legalize marijuana for adults over the age of 21 will provide a major boost to the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, and outdoor economy.
The Public Lands Coalition for 118 and 190 is comprised of four of the state’s leading public lands organizations: Montana Conservation Voters, Wild Montana Action Fund, the Trust for Public Lands, and the Montana Wildlife Federation. At an event Monday in Helena, representatives from the coalition spoke about the need for additional funding for Montana’s public lands and the potential windfall of revenue from 118 and 190. A recent study by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that the two measures would yield an estimated $236 million in new tax revenue over the first six years of legalization. The coalition estimates that at least $18 million of this revenue per year will go directly to public lands and access.
The ballot initiatives set aside conservation money through four different funds that are managed by Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department. The majority would go to Habitat Montana, a 30-year-old program used to open up public access on private land through conservation easements. This wildly popular program has helped dozens of Montana farmers and ranchers maintain ownership while also opening up thousands of acres to public access. The initiatives also allocate dollars to funds supporting nongame wildlife, state parks, and trails and recreation.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity for public lands and access in Montana,” said Aaron Murphy, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters. “Every voter who cares about maintaining access and opening up new land for hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping should vote yes on 118 and yes on 190,” Murphy urged.
With more than $60 million in unmet needs across Montana’s public lands, advocates say the funding couldn’t come at a better time. Frank Szollosi, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation expressed this urgency: “Every legislative session, organizations like ours are fighting tooth and nail to simply maintain the access we currently have across the state. This additional funding would open up thousands of acres and help ensure better access for the next generation.”
The added revenue isn’t just about the state budget either. With the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is the largest federal fund devoted to public lands, is now fully funded at $900 million a year. However, much of those funds are only available to states who can provide a match from their own coffers. “Getting full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund was the public lands victory of a generation,” said David Weinstein, Western conservation finance director at the Trust for Public Lands. “Now, in order to make sure that Montana can take full advantage of that money, we need to find a sustainable stateside revenue source for our public lands. Initiatives 118 and 190 do just that.”
With record use of state parks, trails, campgrounds, and other facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the coalition believes that voters are seeing the need for additional investments in public lands now more than ever. Kayje Booker, advocacy and engagement director for the Wild Montana Action Fund said, “If you’re like me, our public lands have been a godsend during the pandemic. However, we’ve all been seeing just how busy our favorite trailheads and camp sites are. There has never been a better time to invest in our public lands to make sure that every Montanan has access to the open spaces that are right in our backyards.”
For more information on the Public Lands Coalition for 118 and 190, visit publiclandsformontana.org.