Capitol Wildlife Report: Attack on Habitat Montana goes down

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As we move into the final weeks of the 2017 Legislature efforts are again underway in the state Capitol to gut Montana’s most successful habitat protection and public access program, Habitat Montana.

Sportsmen, Conservationists Defeat Bad Habitat Montana Bill

HB 651 was heard two weeks ago in the House Natural Resources committee, where it didn’t receive a single supporter but had a dozen wildlife conservation groups oppose it. It’s a testament to the strong support for Habitat Montana as well as the unified voice of Montana’s conservation and sportsmen’s groups.

The bill would have changed the primary purpose from habitat conservation to securing access easements to public land. It also would have been duplicative by creating a new position in state government that in fact already exists: an access specialist.

HB 651 was passed out last Wednesday following a special committee hearing that morning, but it died on the floor in a 53-47 vote. Thanks to all the MWF volunteers and conservation partners who spoke up to kill this bad bill.

Constitutional Referendum

SB 236, would send a referendum to Montana voters to establish constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap. While MWF has an 81 year history of standing up for the right of Montanans to hunt, trap, and fish, we have concerned about language in the measure for the legal consequences it could have for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, hunters, anglers and trappers, and private landowners. Something this important needs to be written carefully to protect the interests of all wildlife stakeholders.

SB 236 passed out of the Senate in a 30 to 20 vote, and because it requires 100 votes from the entire Legislature will need 70 votes in the House. It will be heard in House Judiciary 8 a.m. Monday, April 3 in Room 137.

State Parks Separation Bill Passes

HB 324 would let the board that governs parks directly hire the supervisor of Montana State Parks, instead of having that supervisor report to the director of Montana FWP. Taking away the FWP director’s authority would fragment decision making, and the bill could have implications for federal hunting and fishing equipment excise taxes that affect the entire FWP budget. The bill passed the Senate late last week and is heading to the governor. MWF will ask for a veto on this bill.

10 Percent Bill

The bill that would guarantee non-residents 10 percent of all special permits for deer, elk and antelope died on the House floor last week in a 53-47 vote. Currently non-resident hunters are capped at 10 percent, and have an equal chance in drawing until that threshold is reached. The bill, HB 568, would have made the 10 percent a guaranteed floor, and would have meant a separate drawing for non-resident hunters.

Looking Ahead

This week the Habitat Montana program will likely be in the spotlight as we begin to work on HB 5, the state capital improvements funding bill that includes the habitat conservation program. We will also likely have the House Judiciary hearing on SB 236, the constitutional referendum.

As always, check the Montana Wildlife Federation bill tracker at montanawildlife.org for the most up-to-date information on bills and where they’re at in the process. For questions, contact MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock at ngevock@mtwf.org or by calling 458-0227 ext. 108.