The finish line is in sight for the 2017 Montana Legislature, and several key measures affecting wildlife, habitat and hunting and angling opportunities are shaping up to work out well for sportsmen and sportswomen. As of last week, Montana’s premier habitat protection and access program, Habitat Montana, was moving through the Legislature intact, meaning hunters will again be able to protect habitat through conservation easements and purchase crucial habitat.
This program, which uses a small fee on hunting licenses to protect working farms and ranches with conservation easements as well as give Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks the ability to buy key parcels, is in HB 5. That’s the state capital improvements bill. Last session Habitat Montana had a budget rider put on it that barred new purchases of land that weren’t in the works. HB 5 last week was heard in the Senate Finance and Claims committee, where several sportsmen and conservation organizations as well as individuals showed up to show support to restore this popular program.
SB 236 would put to voters in 2018 a constitutional referendum that establishes hunting, fishing and trapping as a right. It sounds good, but a little digging reveals that the measure is full of problems for property rights, for resident hunters and for Montana FWP to manage wildlife. The measure would invite litigation and could make it impossible to discern between resident and non-resident hunters in license pricing as well as limiting hunting licenses for non-residents. The bill was heard in the House Judiciary committee and had several proponents, but also numerous opponents including a property rights attorney and several conservation organizations. MWF opposes the bill as hastily written and for the potential consequences it could have for our sporting traditions.
Another bill would create a committee to oversee habitat improvement projects, HB 434. The bill would use a combination of federal and state dollars and individuals could apply for grants to do projects including weed treatments. Projects would have to be approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. The bill has passed the House and was heard last week in the Senate Fish and Game committee.
State Parks Bill
HB 324, which would change the state parks division so that the Parks Board would hire and oversee the executive director of the division, is heading to Gov. Bullock. MWF opposed the bill for the problems it could cause within the agency, as well as the potential threat to federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, sporting gear and fishing tackle.
This week the hearing to confirm Martha Williams as FWP director will be held April 11 at 3 p.m. in Senate Fish and Game. Most bill hearings are over and the committees need to take executive action on bills hanging out there because the Legislature is trying to get done early.
As always, check the Montana Wildlife Federation bill tracker at montanawildlife.org/billtracker 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 458-0227 ext. 108.