Application available for FWP’s Habitat Conservation Lease Program
By angelamontana

Posted: August 16, 2022

HELENA – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is accepting applications for its new Habitat Conservation Lease Program.

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

As it has for decades, FWP is still pursuing conservation easements and land purchases where support from landowners, local officials and the community exists. The lease program is an addition to the conservation tools already available to landowners.

The initial focus of the conservation lease program will be primarily for prairie habitats, with a priority on sage-grouse core areas and other plains habitats recognized by FWP as high priority for wildlife. That focus will be expanded to other priority habitats in subsequent years.

In areas critical to sage-grouse, these leases will ensure habitat protections that help keep populations healthy and allow the bird to remain off the Endangered Species List.

The Habitat Conservation Lease Program potentially could protect up to 500,000 acres in 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, which will ensure our vital open spaces stay that way well 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, building construction, and wetland filling or draining. Normal agricultural operations and noxious weed control will not be impacted.

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

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

FWP conducted a programmatic environment assessment on habitat conservation leases earlier this summer and issued a decision notice last week supporting 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 deadline for applications is Sept. 30.

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

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