Capitol Wildlife Report: Habitat Montana crosses hurdle, Constitutional Referendum goes down

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We’re down to the final days of the 2017 Legislature, and this past week was a good one for wildlife and habitat in our state.

Habitat Montana on track

Habitat Montana, the state’s premier conservation tool to protect vital habitat and provide access for hunters and anglers, cleared another hurdle last week. The program is included in HB 5, the state’s capital improvements bill, and last week it passed out of the Senate.
HB 5 was amended in the Senate and has to go back to the House for concurrence. If it does, the bill will be heading to the governor for his signature. Montana’s hunters and anglers will again be able to acquire quality wildlife habitat, and will gain access to those lands as well as adjoining public lands for hunting.

Constitutional referendum fails

SB 236 would have put before Montana voters a constitutional amendment that created a right to hunt, fish and trap. While Montanans overwhelmingly support our outdoors traditions, the measure was fraught with legal problems that could have affected private property rights, the ability of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to differentiate between resident and non-resident hunters for license pricing, and the ability for state biologists to manage big game, birds and fish.
The measure requires 100 votes, and earlier in the session received 30 votes in the Senate. It hit the House floor after a 10-9 vote in the Judiciary Committee, but was amended and only received 48 votes for it. A motion to reconsider SB 236 came up on Thursday, but it went down even harder in a 38-62 vote.

Habitat bill amended

A bill that brought together landowners, hunters, counties and others, HB 434, was amended for the worse this week. The bill would have allowed FWP to work on habitat improvement projects on public and private land, including weed treatment. Any project would have to be approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and would have required matching dollars. But the Senate Fish and Game committee amended into the bill large sections of HB 651. That was a bad bill that would have gutted Habitat Montana, and created a redundant access specialist position that already exists. The bill is heading back to the Senate and could go to a conference committee, where it will hopefully be restored to a good bill that benefits habitat.

Deer permits, outfitter check in and more

In other bills, SB 171 that would have limited the ability for FWP to issue unlimited deer permits to manage harvest was table in the House FWP committee. SB 185 that would have allowed an outfitter to report clients’ game animals died in House FWP. Several other bills that have been broad consensus measures are making their way to the governor.

Winding down

The Legislature is taking a four day break over the Easter holiday, and will be back on Tuesday. It will be working to finish the state operating budget (HB 2) and working to get an infrastructure improvement bill passed. It’s close to the finish.

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 ngevock@mtwf.org or by calling 458-0227 ext. 108.