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Spring 2017 Montana Audubon Legislative Update

7by Amy Seaman, Conservation Program Manager, Montana Audubon

The legislature is moving ahead at a rapid pace. We have already testified on 24 bills (supporting 13 and opposing 11), held one citizen lobby day  and as you may have heard, contributed to a highly successful public lands rally: on January 30th, the capital was packed with well over 1,000 Montanans supporting public lands! Governor Bullock gave a rousing speech in their defense, vowing that no transfer will occur on his watch (if you missed it, you can still view it on our Facebook page).

Public Lands  Fortunately, no land transfer bills have surfaced yet in Helena, but we expect a resolution by Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) to be introduced soon that would negatively impact Montana’s wilderness study areas. Montana contains 44 federally-managed wilderness study areas, spanning close to a million acres that provide important habitat for native wildlife and provide world-class recreation opportunities. Many deserve permanent protection and we will actively oppose any attempts to undermine wilderness values in Montana.

Sage-grouse and wildlife funding  The most important bill affecting Greater Sage-grouse conservation, House Bill 228, passed its first committee and is making its way through the House. The bill places $1.6 million in the Sage-grouse stewardship account, generating funds for voluntary conservation of sagebrush habitat, and provides $400,000 to the Department of Natural Resources for program staffing needs. We are also working hard to ensure that Habitat Montana emerges fully intact and fully funded, with authority for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to conserve vital habitat through land acquisitions and conservation easements in coming years.

Wildlife management  We are also tracking a number of bills that would make minor adjustments to wildlife management. For example, we are opposing a bill that would legalize pet foxes in Montana and we are supporting one that would improve protections for the spotted skunk. As one of the only groups advocating for non-game wildlife at the capitol, we make sure all of Montana’s wildlife has a voice.

Renewable Energy  Unfortunately, clean energy is under attack again this legislative session. We supported House Bill 34, which would have increased the net-metering cap for certain government facilities and provided a clear path to increased solar investment in Montana, but this bill failed in committee. Meanwhile, a number of bills seeking to reduce incentives for renewable energy are moving forward.

Environmental Protections  Some extremely bad anti-regulation bills are also circulating in Helena, the worst of which may be Senate Bill 98. This “regulatory takings” bill would require local governments and state agencies to compensate private property owners every time a law, rule, policy, or permit condition was alleged to reduce the market value of even a portion of their property by any amount. Essentially, this bill would be the end of land-use planning and zoning in Montana, and could seriously undermine many environmental protections. It has been proven that responsibly implemented regulations are good for our air and water quality, preserve vital wildlife habitat, and help our native birds and wildlife thrive, and we are actively working to defeat this bill, as well as any other attempts to undermine our bedrock environmental laws.

Clean Water and Wetlands  Two bills with huge implications on water and wetlands have also been progressing, although Montana Audubon and our conservation advocates are working hard to stop them. House Bill 339 by Rep. Carl Glimm (R-Kila) would give developers the right to put in wells for new subdivisions without permitting or consultation with those who are legally entitled to use that water first. It’s bad policy based on bad science and will deplete streamflows, undermine senior water rights, increase sprawl, and spark conflict among water users.  Also, Senate Bill 48, a bill to take over the federal program that regulates wetlands (Section 404 of the Clean Water Act), is advancing, through the first chamber albeit with bipartisan opposition. State management of this permit program does not make sense for many reasons, so we are lobbying to maintain federal control of the program.

There is much more to come, and as we push ahead we will stay focused on our top priorities:

  • Securing funding for Habitat Montana and the Greater Sage-grouse Stewardship Act
  • Defending clean water and our state’s bedrock environmental laws
  • Defeating extreme anti-regulation measures
  • Keeping our public lands in public hands

There are many ways to help:

Contact your Legislators and Join Us in Helena.

We will continue sending “Action Alerts” asking you to contact your Representative or Senator on key bills. It’s amazing the difference that constituent calls can make. So when you see an Action Alert be sure to click open! Have your friends join too. It’s easy – just visit mtaudubon.org, scroll to the bottom and enter your name and email address. As always, you are welcome in Helena anytime – come see the action in person.

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