The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has sent an appeal to all its members to ask the Montana Legislature to free up land acquisition funds for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Communications Director Mark Holyoak said that traditionally, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has received the funding and had the discretion to purchase and acquire lands for conservation to help manage Montana's wildlife.

"Right now, there's been some movement in the legislature to remove that spending authority from them," Holyoak said. "That means there's more than $12 million which is basically just going to sit there and not be used. These funds have been generated by hunters, and it's specifically earmarked for that particular reason, and for them to take it away jeopardizes opportunities that we have as sportsmen."

Holyoak said the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and other such conservation organizations exist to protect habitat.

"We exist to help protect some of that habitat, and to create public access opportunities for all kinds of folks, not just hunters and anglers," he said. "We need to raise our voice to the legislature and ask to have that funding authority restored."

Public Affairs Specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Ron Aasheim said the money earmarked for acquisition has been withheld by several legislative committees.

"Typically in Montana, the acquisition of land by public agencies has been a topic of heated conservation," Aasheim said. "For years, we've used the funding for fee title acquisitions, then we went back to conservation easements .Again, there's just a segment that just doesn't think that FWP specifically should own more land."

Brad Tschisa (R-Missoula) and member of the House Appropriations Committee, told KGVO News that the legislature will no longer just give agencies such as FWP a blank check to purchase whatever lands they want. He said his committee is asking for specific goals and for agencies to establish a process wherein the funds would be used. Until then, he said the $12 million would remain available once those conditions are met.

The legislature is on a week-long break.