Four state legislators were honored Wednesday, January 15th at an award ceremony recognizing their outstanding commitment to protecting Montana’s shared outdoor heritage.
The awards, presented at the Montana Club by the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project, recognized Sen. Jeff Welborn (R-Dillon), Sen. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena), Sen. Terry Gauthier (R-Helena), and Sen. Pat Flowers (D-Belgrade) for their work spearheading legislative efforts to secure the future of Montana’s public lands, working lands, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation, values that are broadly shared across Montana.
“These four legislators did incredible work during the 2019 session,” said Bob Walker, chair of the Montana Trails Coalition and an ambassador for the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project. “They fought for public lands funding, dug in to protect the future of our working lands, and defended key wildlife habitat and recreational access for all users.”
Walker emphasized that securing the future of our public lands, working lands, access, and wildlife still requires a lot of work, but said that efforts like those made by the honorees lay the groundwork for continued progress in the future.
MOHP recognized Senator Welborn for his productive role as chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and his commitment to ensuring critical funding for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as a member of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. Senator Welborn was also recognized for his ongoing commitment to protect Montana’s working landscapes and family farms and ranches.
“Working landscapes are vital for wildlife conservation in the West. Ranchers and our natural resource industry partners provide both habitat for the public’s wildlife, and also a great deal of access opportunity for hunters and anglers,” said Sen. Welborn.
“As chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, it’s an honor to bring stakeholders together for those discussions. We do, however, still have some work to do, namely finding a sustainable and stable funding source for important programs like Habitat Montana and working with federal agencies on wildlife corridors.”
Sen. Jill Cohenour, vice chair of the Senate Fish and Game Committee, was recognized for her efforts to pass a number of bills aimed at protecting and enhancing our recreational opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat. Senator Cohenour was also a co-chair of the bipartisan sporting caucus, which was instrumental in ensuring that Habitat Montana, a program that works with private landowners to protect and provide hunting access on private land, came out of the session intact and fully funded.
“It is an honor to work with engaged citizens in the legislature to protect programs like Habitat Montana that enhance Montanans ability to access our wildlife and wild places,” said Sen. Cohenour.
Sen. Pat Flowers received an award in recognition of his commitment to protect public access to the outdoor activities that bring Montanans together. Sen. Flowers was a passionate and eloquent advocate for Montana’s outdoor values, and was instrumental in passing a bill that will allow much needed improvements to Missouri Headwaters State Park.
“As Montanans we enjoy the great fortune of recreating on Montana’s stunning landscapes with robust fish and wildlife populations. I am honored to support all the Montanans who are working to ensure our kids, and theirs, inherit this incredible legacy,” said Sen. Flowers.
The final award recipient was Sen. Terry Gauthier. He was the primary sponsor of SB24, the only standalone recreation funding bill that passed last session. SB24, which will help fund Montana State Parks, fishing access sites, and a new trails grant program, is a great example of Montanans coming together to invest in our outdoor heritage, and can serve as a blueprint for future bipartisan efforts to protect Montana’s outdoor values for our children and grandchildren.
The awards ceremony comes on the heels of a statewide survey conducted by the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project that showed a strong appetite for new state funding to support wildlife protection, improve public access, and conserve more working lands in Montana. MOHP is hopeful that some of the ideas gathered during the survey (available here) will eventually advance into state policy, but it will take additional work. The team, which consists of about 40 volunteer ambassadors and staff from supporting organizations, is sharing the survey results with lawmakers and decision-makers to encourage further conversation and action in advance of the 2021 legislative session.