Applications Available for FWP’s Habitat Conservation Lease Program – Hi-Line Today

HELEN, Mont. (NMB) – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is accepting applications for its new Habitat Conservation Rental Program.

A Habitat Conservation Lease is a voluntary, incentive-based agreement between FWP and private landowners in which the landowner agrees to implement specific land management practices that protect priority wildlife habitat. In turn, FWP pays landowners a one-time fee per acre for the lease. These agreements would have a duration of 30 and 40 years.

As it has done for decades, FWP still pursues conservation easements and land purchases where landowner, local government and community support exists. The lease program adds to the conservation tools already available to landowners.

The conservation lease program will initially focus on grassland habitats, with priority on core areas of sage-grouse and other plains habitats recognized by the FWP as high priority for wildlife. This priority will be extended to other priority habitats in the years to come.

In critical areas for sage-grouse, these leases will provide habitat protection that will help maintain healthy populations and keep the bird off the endangered species list.

The Habitat Conservation Lease Program could potentially protect up to 500,000 acres over the next five years.

“Beyond protecting important habitat, this program will also be another tool to help keep family farms and ranches on the landscape, ensuring that our vital open spaces remain that way into the future,” said FWP director Hank Worsech.

Habitat conservation leases will maintain native habitats by protecting them from specific management that would alter their integrity, including tillage, energy development, construction of buildings, and infilling or draining of wetlands. Normal agricultural operations and noxious weed control will not be affected.

Public access will also be part of the lease, but the details will be specific to each agreement.

Funding for the conservation lease program includes funds earmarked for Habitat Montana, Pittman-Robertson funds, and other sources dedicated to specific habitat types (eg, wetlands). Habitat Montana funds will be matched by federal funds at a ratio of 25/75, which means that every dollar of Habitat Montana money would be matched by $3 of federal money.

FWP conducted a programmatic environmental assessment on habitat conservation leases earlier this summer and last week issued a notice of decision supporting the habitat conservation lease agreements.

More information and applications for the program are available on the FWP at https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/habitat/habitat-conservation/lease-program. The application deadline is September 30.

FWP is also asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission to approve up to 500,000 acres of listings. The committee will make a decision on this proposal at its meeting on August 25.

Courtesy of FWP

Ryan H. Bowman