I had the honor to serve in the Legislature for almost a decade, from 2003-2013, with one term off in the middle. During my time at the Capitol, I saw some tough political fights and some hard-fought compromises. The legislative process wasn’t always perfect, but we did the best we could.
Today, our politics are more divided than ever. At this challenging time, we need to find more issues that can bring people together and help heal our fractured democracy. Since leaving the Legislature, I’ve been serving on the board of directors of Montana Audubon, and I believe wildlife conservation can be one of those areas where we can find more common ground. Working with Audubon, I’ve seen how conservation of Montana’s wildlife can bring people from different walks of life together, with better outcomes for everybody. I’ve seen birdwatchers and ranchers work together to protect working family ranches and sage grouse. I’ve seen environmentalists and the energy industry find ways to mitigate and collaborate.
Of course, wildlife conservation can be plenty contentious. But instead of just arguing about wolf hunting or elk management or oil drilling, we can seek out areas of common ground here too. Everybody in Montana wants to protect the diversity of our state’s wildlife as our communities grow and we meet the needs of our economy. Everybody wants to keep our native fish and wildlife abundant and avoid more regulations and lawsuits. Working together, we should be able to make this happen.
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Right now, Congress is considering a bill called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that would significantly improve wildlife conservation in Montana and across the nation. It hasn’t been getting a lot of attention amidst all the other fights going on in Washington. But this bill has been slowly, surely moving through the legislative process, gaining support from every corner of the country and every end of the political spectrum. Right now, the bill has the support of more than 200 members of the House of Representatives and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide federal funding to state governments to conserve fish and wildlife at the local level. The bill is unique in that it focuses on preventing conflict over endangered species, supporting state management of wildlife and funding collaborating with private landowners instead of regulating them. Funds under the bill would be allocated to the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to work together to conserve species and their habitats before disagreements turn into fights. Taking preventive action would also save taxpayers money down the road, because early intervention is always cheaper.
Congress could be voting on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act within in the next few months. I hope that our Montana congressional delegation can realize the importance of coming to agreement on supporting such a bill.
Maybe if we found a little more common ground to agree on, it would make the tougher debates a little easier. That’s true when it comes to wildlife conservation, and it holds promise for restoring everybody’s trust in government.
Dr. Don Roberts, D.M.D., M.S. (retired) and rancher, served in the Montana House (HD 56) from 2003-2007 and from 2009-2013. He is a board member of Montana Audubon.