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A new Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ initiative looks to define a vision for fish and wildlife management in the next decade.

The department will hold nine public meetings across the state asking for input for the “’15 & Forward” initiative as it develops an updated mission statement with goals and principles. FWP manages fish and wildlife as a public trust, and the public can weigh in on strengths of that management and changes they would like to see.

“There are a number of reasons for why we’re doing this now,” said Charlie Sperry, Responsive Management supervisor for FWP. “A big one is how long it’s been since we did something like this. A lot has changed with demographics, the composition of people in the department has changed incredibly with people retiring -- you combine all that and it’s ripe to be doing it now.”

FWP last looked at its mission and vision 20 years ago. In the last two decades, an increasing percentage of people who live in and visit Montana are interested in recreation such as backpacking or wildlife watching as opposed to fishing, hunting and trapping.

Hunters and anglers as a group are increasing in average age, and FWP has also lost many employees to retirement, taking with them institutional knowledge, Sperry said.

“At the same time we have an influx of younger people, and it’s just a good time to take advantage of the senior staff we have to have this conversation internally and externally,” he said.

The initiative will evaluate the current mission statement and goals, but that will not automatically trigger major changes, Sperry said. Those documents could change as the department hears from the public and employees, but many of the principles could very well remain, he added.

The initiative comes at the same time as the department holds meetings its dubbed “Finding Common Ground” with interest groups looking at how the agency is funded, and how people who do not hunt or fish can contribute to the fish and wildlife they enjoy. The majority of FWP funding comes from sales of hunting and fishing licenses with the majority of the remaining funding coming from excise taxes on firearms and fishing equipment.

While Sperry made it clear that the two efforts are separate -- Finding Common Ground relies on public members while ’15 and Forward heavily involves employees -- both will inform FWP’s path forward.

“There is a connection, no question about it,” he said. “A big component of both is who we serve, how we do the work we’re doing and why we do it. I don’t know that it was strategically planned, but they do complement each other.”

Outdoor and wildlife interest groups plan to weigh in on the initiative with broad priorities of their own for FWP.

“Because of the way FWP is funded they’ve leaned towards taking care of their base of hunters, trappers and fishers, but the dynamics are changing in the U.S.,” said Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies, a group that plans to weigh in on the initiative and also a member of Finding Common Ground.

Hunting revenue is becoming more competitive among states soliciting nonresident license sales as more people take an interest in wildlife viewing, although Cooke said his group is not anti-hunting. Cooke has been encouraged by recent FWP moves to listen to those without a gun or fishing pole seeking a voice, and he hopes it continues proportionally into the broader mission and vision discussion.

The Montana Wildlife Federation has long pushed for increasing public access to wildlife, and plans to bring that message to ’15 and Forward.

“We’ll definitely weigh in on it, given how much hunting has changed around the West to privatize wildlife, mission statements like this are important to maintain Montana as the best hunting and angling state we know it is,” said Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Meetings kick off in Billings July 20 running through Aug. 12 in Kalispell. A meeting in Helena is scheduled for July 29, from 6-9 p.m. at Montana WILD, 2668 Broadwater Ave.

FWP encourages the public to RSVP by emailing FWP15andForward@mt.gov, or calling Deb O’Neill at 444-3755. More information and a comment form are available at fwp.mt.gov by following links to “Submit Public Comments” and “Doing Business.”

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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