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Big Sky Connection - Gov. Greg Gianforte's proposed budget does not include tax revenue from cannabis sales to go toward Habitat Montana, a decades-old conservation program. Hunting and conservation groups say the program is vital for the state's public lands. Comments from Mike Penfold retired from U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management; and Molly Bell, political director, Montana Conservation Voters.

Click on the image above for the audio. - The Habitat Montana program is managed by the state Fish, Wildlife, and Parks agency. (fwp.mt.gov)

Eric Tegethoff

December 13, 2022

Conservation and hunting groups are concerned about Governor Greg Gianforte's decision in his proposed budget not to distribute revenue from recreational cannabis to the Habitat Montana program. The 2020 initiative legalizing cannabis for recreational use set aside tax revenue for conservation on state public lands through programs such as Habitat Montana. The program has been around since 1987.

Mike Penfold, a retired employee of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, said he is disappointed the governor has not included tax revenue from cannabis for Habitat Montana in his budget.

"Habitat Montana has been really effective at conservation easements that protect wildlife habitat and sometimes provide public access on private land, but also allow the private land activities to continue," Penfold said.

Gianforte's proposal includes $12-million for Habitat Montana, which is an increase from the last budget cycle, but eliminates about $30-million in projected cannabis tax revenue. A spokesperson for the governor said Gianforte continues to focus on the state's public lands but wants the cannabis revenue to be used to serve veterans, strengthen treatment services and boost law enforcement.

Molly Bell, Political Director for Montana Conservation Voters, noted lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session are looking at a near record surplus for the next two years, which makes it even more confounding why a funding source for Habitat Montana is being taken away.

"With a $2-billion surplus and especially since this is something that voters approved the whole package, that it definitely needs to be reinstated," Bell said.

About half of the revenue generated from cannabis sales was designed to be set aside for conservation on public lands, according to the voter-approved initiative. Whether that will continue, including for programs such as Habitat Montana, is now up to lawmakers. The 2023 legislative session begins on January 2nd.

Eric Tegethoff - Producer - Contact

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

Persistent ID: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erictegethoff/

Languages Spoken: English

Topic Expertise: Northwest state politics, environment, labor

Local Expertise: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana

Demographic Expertise: low-income families, labor

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