Capitol Wildlife Report: Habitat Montana attacked, non-resident tags and more

Capitol-Griz

Another busy week for wildlife wrapped up Friday, and things heated up as legislators heard a bill that would gut Montana’s premier habitat and access program, Habitat Montana. Here is the rundown of last week and a look ahead as we sprint toward the finish line of the 2017 Legislature.

Habitat Montana in the cross hairs

Habitat Montana would be destroyed under HB 651. The bill would prioritize projects that provide access to existing public lands and make it much harder for habitat purchases. It was heard Friday in the House Natural Resources committee and passed out of committee. The bill had no proponents, and numerous conservation and sportsman’s organizations spoke against it, but it still passed.

On a positive note, HB 5, which contains Habitat Montana, passed out of the House and moved over to the Senate this week. The bill remains clean, meaning it will restore the ability of FWP to purchase key habitat. We’ll continue monitoring this bill to ensure this key program is full restored to benefit wildlife, hunters and recreationists.

Non-resident permits

Another bill, HB 568, would guarantee non residents a set 10 percent of special draw elk, deer and antelope tags. Numbers from FWP showed it would result in 144 fewer deer and elk licenses for residents, including in some really coveted districts, as well as several hundred cow elk B tags. It passed out of the House FWP committee.

State Parks bill dies

HB 454 is one of two state parks bill that would result in major changes in how the parks are run. It would move the department over to the state Department of Commerce. It’s part of this push to get parks out of FWP, but makes little sense. The bill died on the House floor on Friday in a 49-50 vote.

Licensing bills consolidated

SB 119 revamps the categories of nonresident relative of a resident tags that they can get a half price license for. It adds in deer only and elk only, instead of requiring a combination license. It was amended to include half price deer and elk B licenses for nonresident college students as part of a compromise. That helped us table HB 315 and HB 318, both of which would have started to chip away at the hard work done two years ago on the licensing bill that cleaned up all the free and reduced priced licenses.

FWP operating budget

HB 2 began to be heard in the Senate Finance committee. It contains the operating budget for FWP and thus far is pretty much intact. It will need amendments to clean up the use of Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax funds to pay for game wardens. That will have to take place in the Senate.

Looking ahead, wilderness releases and public access

Next week we have HJ 9, the resolution that would release seven Wilderness Study Areas. We also have our roadblocked bill, SB 358, in Senate Highways and Transportation. This bill would bump up the current $10 per day fine for gating a county road to up to $250 per day. It should be another busy week.

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.