Budget Moves Ahead in Great Shape

The Montana Legislature was back in full swing this week following the brief transmittal break. As we enter the second half of the session, the budget for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is in good shape after passing the House and other good bills continue to move forward.

As always, MWF staffers and our lobbyist were in the Capitol to make sure our voices were heard. And it’s having an effect. Our work this past week included a lobby day in which more than a dozen volunteer activists showed up to speak about our key bills on access, habitat protection and on a resolution affecting elk management.

Here are the highlights from the week.

Camo at the Capitol and HB 265

MWF joined a half dozen other sporting groups to host a “Camo in the Capitol” lobby day for sportsmen and sportswomen. It was a big success, with hunters and anglers showing up from Butte, Anaconda, Missoula, Helena, Bozeman and as far as Glasgow to get a quick lobby training and then head to the Capitol to lobby on a total of five bills.

The day included a working lunch with the governor’s staff, FWP Director Martha Williams and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney to talk about our bills this session on improving public access, sage grouse conservation and on elk management.

The day was completed when the sportsmen and sportswomen attended the Senate Fish and Game Committee for the hearing on HB 265 (Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman) which would undo last year’s state Supreme Court ruling that Land Board approval is not required for Habitat Montana conservation easements.

MWF and our affiliates worked hard on the Horse Creek Complex conservation easement and the Supreme Court case. It’s important because landowners need certainty that when they begin the lengthy process of negotiating an easement with FWP, it will be completed once the Fish and Wildlife Commission approves it.

Trapping Setbacks

HB 552,  (Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls) would have barred in state law the ability for Montana FWP to establish setbacks for traps on closed roads on public lands. This is a recipe to set up numerous conflicts with recreational users because snowshoers, cross country skiers, bird and lion hunters and numerous other people use these roads for recreation. And many bring their dogs with them, which means the bill would set up these closed roads to have dogs getting caught in traps.

The bill had been tabled but was revived this week in the House FWP committee. It came out amended but was still a recipe to create conflict between trappers and the non-trapping recreational users. The bill died on the House floor Friday 50-50. MWF supports trapping but also understands that its future will be dependent on resolving conflicts between trappers and the non-trapping public.

Other Bills Advance

A host of other bills continue to move forward this session. They include: HB 29 Revise bird hunting dog laws (Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton); HB 205 Revising laws related to fish pond licenses (Rep. Ray Shaw, R-Sheridan); HB 239 Allow special drawing refunds to be redirected to block management program (Rep. Marilyn Marler, D-Missoula); HB 432 Allow bonus points for limited fishing licenses, tags, and permits (Rep. Marilyn Marler, D-Missoula)

MWF supports all of the bills.

FWP Budget

Montana FWP’s operating budget, in HB 2, came out of the House Appropriations committee in really good shape this week. The bill is the main portion of the budget for the agency and includes several strong provisions that MWF supported.

Among them are two grizzly bear management specialist positions, who will help manage grizzly bears and work to prevent conflicts with livestock and other issues. In addition, the budget includes a new staff position as a wildlife planner for deer and elk. MWF supports revamping the 2004 statewide elk management plan, and FWP needs the staff to do it.

HB 2 also includes new equipment that FWP staff needs. That list includes new boats, off-road vehicles, and two new helicopters to conduct wildlife counts.

Thanks again for being a member of MWF’s Legislative Action Team. Please encourage friends and family to join, and stay engaged as we continue to move through the session. As we move closer to the end, MWF will continue to work in the Capitol every day for our public wildlife, habitat and to improve public access.

MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock