The MWF staff, lobbyist and our volunteers were on hand as we have been every week this session to show where Montana’s hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts stand on these key issues. Here’s the rundown for the week:
Habitat Montana Bill
HB 265 (Revise laws related to approval of FWP conservation easements, Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman) passed out of the Senate Fish and Game committee this week in a 6-4 vote. This came despite dozens of comments from members of several sporting organizations letting the committee know that Montana’s sportsmen and sportswomen strongly oppose the bill. It would require state Land Board approval for conservation easements under Habitat Montana, an issue that was settled last year by the state Supreme Court.
We saw last year the uncertainty and arbitrary nature of this process and the severe chilling effect it would put on farm and ranch families who want to work with FWP. We will be working in the next few days to let the full Senate know that this bill is bad for Montana’s landowners, hunters, anglers and for our wildlife and sporting opportunity.
Elk Shoulder Season Resolution
The Senate Fish and Game committee also passed out HJ 18 (Resolution urging enhancement of elk management/shoulder seasons, Rep. Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale). This resolution, while it has been improved, calls for six months of elk hunting and extending the shoulder seasons from Aug. 15 to Feb. 15 onto public lands. That was not the intent of shoulder seasons. MWF opposes the resolution and testified along with several conservation partners against it in the committee, but it passed out in a 6-4 vote. We will continue to oppose this resolution that divides landowners and sportsmen and have let the full Senate where Montana’s hunters stand on this bad resolution.
Agency Wildlife Data Protection
On a positive note, the Senate Fish and Game committee heard SB 247 (Protect fish and wildlife information from misuse, Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena) and passed an amended version of it to the full Senate, where it also passed. The bill makes it illegal for people to use specific FWP data on individual animals to hunt or harass wildlife. It’s an important bill to maintain our fair chase hunting tradition while still allowing FWP to conduct needed research.
Proof of Game Animal Bill
A bill to clean up the state law on how animals must be brought out to prove their sex, SB 333 (Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena) passed out of the Senate Fish and Game committee. The law has been poorly worded and needed changes. This bill would remove the requirement for either-sex licenses, and make it easier for hunters to comply with the law for others by changing the requirements when an animal’s sex must be determined. It passed the full Senate on second reading.
The bill to require county commissions to give the approval to gate a road under their jurisdiction, SB 301 (Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby) was heard in the House Judiciary Committee this week. Counties have the authority to allow encroachments on county roads, but this bill would make a person wanting to block a road to first go to the commission. That would trigger a public process with input on why a road can be encroached upon, and state law doesn’t allow roads to be abandoned unless there is other adequate public access to public lands they reach. MWF supported the bill to add transparency to road disputes.
Wolf Donation Bill
HB 291 (Create a voluntary account to wolf mitigation, Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston) would create a permanent fund at Montana FWP to allow hunters to donate to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. MWF opposed the bill because most of the voluntary programs at FWP do not raise much money, and can end up costing the agency with administrative costs. MWF asked for a sunset to give the program a chance, similar to many of our popular conservation programs. The bill passed the Senate Fish and Game committee and is going to the full Senate.
State Parks Funding
The second bill that would have severely cut into the State Parks program’s budget died this week. SB 242 (Create state park decal, Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings) would have eliminated the voluntary $6 per year vehicle registration fee for an optional $35 per year decal for entrance to state parks. It would have cost the state parks an estimated $3 million per year and forced it to close parks or start charging entrance fees. The bill died in the Senate Fish and Game committee unanimously.
FWP Budget Moving
The main operating budget for the state, HB 2, was heard this week in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. FWP’s budget has thus far come out in good shape, with needed equipment and personnel to properly manage our fish, wildlife and parks resources. MWF has been monitoring the budget throughout the process and will continue to do so as we move into the final month of the session.
That’s a quick rundown of the main bills in the session. Our complete Bill Tracker is available with real-time updates on our homepage, and remember it’s not too late to join our Legislative Action Team as we head into the homestretch of the Legislature. Our volunteers and staff will ensure that we come out of the session with good policy for our wildlife, habitat, and access.