Legislature Begins the War on Elk

Bill, Resolution Would Open Up Elk Harvest Sharply

A resolution calling for party hunting, adding shoulder seasons to public lands and removing flexibility for regional management of elk moved ahead this week. This week also saw action on bills affecting wolf management, trapping, and crossbows, and FWP’s budget came out of the first series of committee hearings.

Once again the Montana Wildlife Federation staff, lobbyist and volunteers were busy testifying in hearings, interacting with legislators and engaging our supporters to stand up for wildlife and habitat. As we approach the halfway point of the Legislative session, here are the bills that moved forward or died this week.

War on Elk Moves Ahead

Elk management is always controversial, and a bill and resolution this week threw that out there. HJ 18 had no support from hunting organizations and only seeks to further the divide against hunters and landowners. It sets a dangerous precedent in telling FWP how to manage elk on a fine scale, rather than the traditionally conservative approach to setting overarching policy goals. The resolution calls for party hunting of elk, multiple B tags, shoulder seasons on public land and setting shoulder season dates in stone, regardless of the local wildlife managers’ needs or landowner desires. MWF opposed the resolution.

HB 497 would allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to issue additional cow elk tags and introduces the concept of shoulder seasons into law. A companion to the HJ 18, both bills passed out of the House FWP committee and are heading to the floor for a vote. We will be working hard to kill both of these bad bills for our elk herds, hunters and for our relations with our friends in the landowner community.

Wildlife Location Bill Advances

The Montana Legislature took a positive step toward maintaining our longstanding ethical, fair-chase hunting heritage this week as a bill to ban the sale of specific locations for big game animals passed the Senate. SB 127 (Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena) would put Montana ahead of other states in which locations can be sold. MWF strongly supports this bill and will work to get it through the House for the governor’s signature.

Wolf Bills

HB 551 (Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls) would allow wolf hunting at night. MWF opposed the bill and does not support hunting any big game at night. This bill would violate fair chase hunting ethics and put hunters out in the field at night, in grizzly bear country and when deer and elk are in the rut.

In addition, HB 279 (Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls) that would allow payments for dead wolves for trappers passed the House this week. MWF is opposed to bounties for any wildlife and is working to kill this bill as it moves to the Senate.

MWF is supporting several other bills this session to reduce wolf license fees for resident and non-resident hunters in an effort to put more hunters in the field, while we maintain our fair chase hunting ethic. These include HB 280, HB 281 and HB 407, all sponsored by Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls.

Wildlife Counts

HB 509 (Rep. Gordon Pierson, D-Deer Lodge) would require third-party verification for Montana FWP’s game counts. MWF opposed this bill because it’s vague, did not specify who would conduct the audits, and would cost FWP more than $400,000 a year in estimated costs. It could also include game birds and fish and doesn’t lay out any methodology that would be used to look at game counts. The bill was heard this week in the House FWP committee and awaits action.

Crossbow Bill Dies

The bill that would have allowed disabled and hunters over age 70 to use crossbows during the archery season died on the Senate floor 37-13 late last week. SB 174 (Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings) was controversial because of the effect it would have on our fair chase archery hunt. MWF strongly supports opportunities for disabled hunters, and our partners at the Montana Bowhunters Association have worked extensively to provide modified archery equipment for disabled hunters.

Checking Big Game

SB 256 (Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton) would allow a third party to check in big game species that require inspection. A similar bill was brought last session that was limited to outfitted clients, but this bill would apply to all hunters.

Looking Forward

Next week should be extremely busy, with the transmittal deadline that is the halfway point of the Legislature upon us. That’s the deadline when any non-revenue bills must have passed one chamber of the Legislature. We expect evening floor sessions as bills pile up that must pass.

In the next week, we will see bills affecting the sage grouse conservation strategy for the state, another bill on funding the Aquatic Invasive Species program, and a bill on how information on hunter’s harvest locations is accessed by the public. We are also expecting bills affecting bison conservation to continue to move forward.

For the most up-to-date information, check our Bill Tracker, or become a member of our Legislative Action Team and encourage friends and family to join as well.