(Big Sky Connection) With Montana lawmakers looking at a large budget surplus, a group of hunters, scientists and landowners is asking them to consider creating a trust for land stewardship and restoration. The Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition has proposed a $200 million program, to be known as the Montana Legacy Trust.
Craig Jourdonnais, a member of the coalition and a former biologist for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said now is the right time to set up the trust, especially because the state doesn't have a permanent funding source to fill this need.
"There's an opportunity now, with the budget surplus being maybe even at a historic level, that we can make a proposal for a permanent trust that would go directly toward increasing and enhancing productivity of the land here in Montana," Jourdonnais urged.
Gov. Greg Gianforte has proposed the more than $1 billion surplus go to tax cuts and infrastructure spending. The Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition has been meeting this year to consider how to better manage the state's elk population, both for hunters and landowners.
Sen. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, spoke at the coalition's August symposium and has expressed interest in the Montana Legacy Trust proposal.
The coalition estimates the $200 million investment would yield between $4 million and $8 million in interest each year, which could be used to fund the program. Jourdonnais noted the idea has precedents. Wyoming's Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust was started in 2006. It partners with organizations, agencies and local residents.
"This template has been in place, and it's been incredibly productive, and this would be an opportunity for Montanans to really invest back into Montana," Jourdonnais contended.
Jourdonnais believes the program could have long-term benefits for the state.
"I have 11 grandkids, and I can look at this program and go, 'Man, there's opportunity here for them as well,' " Jourdonnais added.
The 2023 legislative session begins January 2.