By Bob Walker, Editor

Representative Kerry White has drafted two bills for consideration by the 2019 session of the Montana Legislature to increase the amounts of current state gas tax refunded to the state’s OHV and snowmobile programs! Representative White’s bills would increase the refund to the state OHV program from 1/8 of 1% to 23/50 of 1%, nearly a fourfold increase, and to the state snowmobile program from 15/28 of 1% to 9/10 of 1%! These increased amounts are supported by studies published by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. For clarification, these bills would not increase the state gas tax but transfer larger amounts currently collected to the two programs.

It is important to point out that this gas tax returned to the off-highway vehicle (OHV) and snowmobile programs is for  gas used in those machines off maintained roads! The gas tax authorized to the OHV program has not increased since 1991 and since 1995 for snowmobiles! The number of registered machines has increased exponentially in that time period. A clear need exists for this increase in state gas tax funds to the OHV program. In FY 2018, applications for OHV grant funds totaled $185,000 while only $110,000 was available. Several valuable projects were not included in applications due to the small amount available.

Examples include expanding the regional OHV trail maintenance program for an additional cost of $180,000 per year. Currently one single grant to the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association allows them to contract with a trail builder-to maintain and rehabilitate OHV trails on four national forests. The need for this type of work is statewide. As an important point, 99% of OHV trails exist on U.S. Forest Service and BLM managed properties. Grants on or to federal agencies for OHV projects require the cooperation with and support from an OHV club!

Also there is a dire need for expansion of the OHV On the Right Trail Ethics Education Program at an additional cost of $50,000 per year and development of quality OHV route maps totaling an additional $50,000 per year.

A clear need also exists for this increase in state gas tax funds to the snowmobile program. In FY 2016-2017, Fish, Wildlife & Parks received applications from 25 dedicated snowmobile clubs totaling $581,000 but the amount available for grants was $429,204. At the same time these clubs invested $550,339 of their own club money and value of volunteer labor to help maintain 4,000 miles of safe and quality winter trails.

Snowmobile trail groomers maintain quality and safe snowmobile trails for all types of winter recreational activities. Most machines needed for grooming in the 195 HP power range and above now cost in excess of $250,000. FWP, with input from the citizen snowmobile advisory committee, prioritizes and purchase used machines to attempt to meet the need and lease them to snowmobile clubs. Unfortunately with funds currently available, the snowmobile program can’t adequately maintain an aging fleet of groomers!

The state OHV and snowmobile programs are administered by Fish, Wildlife & Parks which relies on citizen’s advisory committees to recommend grants for both programs. MTVRA will keep you posted on the progress of these two important bills. When the time comes and more information is available, please make it a point to contact your legislators and convince them of the importance of these two bills and the positive changes they will create!