by Bob Walker, Editor, Montana Trail Rider News

The Montana Environmental Quality Council (EQC) met on September 27 in part to consider the future of Montana’s state parks and recreation programs.  The EQC is an interim legislative committee that reviews and appraises state natural resources agencies and programs.

The first item on the agenda involved a State Parks program evaluation, a future performance audit followed by a memo from Governor Bullock to Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Director Martha Williams about the Governor’s Parks In Focus Initiative.  A copy of the Governor’s memo was made available. Director Williams very accurately and completely explained the charge from the Governor’s office and answered questions from EQC members.

The Program Evaluation, authored by the Montana Legislative Services Division, provided an overview of State Parks and Recreation office history, programs, funding sources and expenditures.  It includes information about the Recreational Trails, OHV and Snowmobile, programs and Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  Also included are specifics about income, expenditures and visitation at some specific state parks. Tom Reilly, Acting State Parks Administrator, very accurately responded to questions about parks and trails program funding and expenditures.  A few members queried about why the money for all trails grants, except LWCF, comes from the motorized community. You can find a complete copy of the evaluation at:

http://leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Interim/2017-2018/EQC/Meetings/Sept-2017/program-eval-parks.pdf.

A discussion about a Performance Audit and the Parks In Focus Initiative consumed the majority of the session. The performance audit, due Spring 2018, will study governance: the relationships among the State Parks Division, the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the State Parks and Recreation Board and a Governor’s appointed Parks In Focus Commission. The audit will address the effectiveness of the current system, a review of other state programs and how they function, a review of resource prioritization, and a discussion about staff and State Parks and Recreation Board changes during the past nine months.

The Governor’s Parks In Focus memo requires Director Williams to report to the Governor by October 5 with:

1) A collaborative vision for the Parks in Focus Initiative

2) An engagement strategy

3) A proposal for a public-private partnership to secure appropriate resources

4) Your recommendations for nominees to serve on the Parks in Focus Commission.

You can find the Governor’s memo at:

http://leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Interim/2017-2018/EQC/Meetings/Sept-2017/parks-in-focus-memo.pdf

EQC members asked many questions about the recent controversy over staff and Parks Board changes and said they will continue to seek more detail but all agreed that it’s time to look to the future and an improved statewide parks and recreation environment!  More to come from EQC and Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ studies and activities during the next 15 month!

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