Legislature approves Warnick bill expanding public-private partnerships on state-managed lands

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Judy Warnick cleared its final hurdle with just three days left in the 2024 legislative session.

The state Senate unanimously concurred with amendments made by the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 5785 would allow the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to enter into longer-term agreements with charitable organizations to help maintain and protect the over 1 million acres it manages.

“Managing our state’s forests and natural resources is a shared responsibility and a pretty big task. My legislation harnesses the passion of volunteers to help preserve those resources for future generations,” Warnick said.

The House amendment clarifies the continued responsibility of the department to safeguard the state’s natural resources in concert with Indian tribes. Warnick’s legislation would expand the authority of DFW to contract with volunteer organizations and nonprofits to help manage those million acres in 33 wildlife areas and over 450 waterways.

“Volunteer-led organizations are critical partners in this valuable conservation work. Now the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will have more flexibility, building on their good work with community partners and tribes,” Warnick added.

The Legislature passed a law in 2013 that granted limited authority to DFW to work with volunteer organizations. Warnick’s bill would expand these partnerships with longer-term cooperative agreements and resources to deploy in the maintenance and preservation of public lands.

Warnick praised organizations like the Back Country Horsemen saying, “These community groups have been working quietly in the background helping the state and the public for years. I’m hopeful this legislation will provide more opportunities for people to get involved in taking care of our wildlife and state-managed lands.”

Warnick’s bipartisan bill now heads to the governor’s desk for final consideration.