HELENA – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is again accepting applications for its 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 will 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.
Last year FWP received few applications for the program and has since made changes to the program to make it more appealing to landowners. These changes included increasing the payment level and providing a new buy-out option for landowners who wish to replace the conservation lease with a permanent conservation easement.
A supplemental environmental assessment was completed on the changes to the program earlier this year. It can be found here.
The initial focus of the conservation lease program is prairie and pothole wetland habitats, with a priority on sage-grouse core areas and other plains habitats recognized by FWP as high priority for wildlife.
In areas critical to sage-grouse, these leases ensure habitat protections to 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 maintain native habitats by protecting them from specific disturbances 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.