Wolves, Bison and FWP Budget

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will get several important new biologists, as well as needed new equipment and other tools, under the main state budget that moved forward this week.

HB 2, the main state operating budget, passed out of the full House this week in great shape for Montana’s hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts. FWP has asked for a pair of grizzly bear management specialists, a big game planner and some equipment to replace ATVs and boats that are old and outdated.

That was among the highlights from the past week, in which as always MWF’s staff, lobbyist and volunteers showed up to testify and talk to legislators to stand up for our wildlife, habitat, and access. Here are the bills that saw action this week:

FWP Budget Solid

HB 2 General appropriations act (Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton) passed the House in great shape for FWP’s operations. It includes grizzly bear specialists in Butte and Red Lodge, which are two areas seeing many more grizzlies moving in, as well as a wildlife planner position to update the statewide elk management plan. The bill also includes new boats, off-road vehicles and other equipment that FWP needs to do its job in the field.

The Bill Now Heads to the Senate

In addition, HB 5, which is the capital improvements bill, passed second reading in the full House this week. The bill includes the appropriation for Habitat Montana, which is our best state conservation and access program.

Wolf Bills

Numerous wolf bills have come forward this session, ranging from several bills to lower the cost of wolf hunting licenses for both resident and non-resident hunters, to bills to allow bounties to be paid for trappers.

HB 279 Allow for wolf trapper reimbursement (Rep. Bob Brown, R-St. Regis) would allow groups to pay trappers for wolves they kill. MWF does not support payments for the taking of any game species, which is a bounty and a system we abandoned nearly a century ago. The bill was heard in the Senate Fish and Game committee this week, where MWF opposed it.

MWF also opposed in the Senate Fish and Game committee HB 291 Create voluntary wolf mitigation fund (Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston). The bill would create a fund at FWP where hunters can donate to pay USDA Wildlife Services. Such voluntary programs rarely generate much funding, and such programs can end up costing FWP money. MWF asked for a sunset on the program to see if it works, similar to numerous other FWP programs included many of our best conservation programs.

We supported HB 281 Revising laws related to how non-resident wolf licenses are issued (Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls). The bill would allow non-resident hunters who buy a big game or deer combination hunting license to add on a wolf license for half price, which is $25.

Wounded Veterans Programs

HB 275 Revise hunting privileges for Purple Heart recipients (Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell) would revamp how we issue licenses that Montana residents purchase and can donate to injured veterans for use in guided hunts supplied by outfitters. This program has worked successfully for several years, but needed some changes to get more veterans to qualify. It passed second reading in the Senate this week.

Bison Redefined

HB 132 Clarify definition of bison (Rep. Kenneth Holmlund, R-Miles City) would make all bison within the state of Montana domestic animals, including those coming out of Yellowstone National Park. It would redefine as domestic any bison that has ever been reduced to captivity, among the criteria, and that includes bison that are held in a quarantine facility for testing.

The bill passed the Senate with amendments and is going back to the House for final approval. MWF opposes the bill.

APR Resolution

MWF joined five other groups this week to write a letter in opposition to HJ 28, Joint resolution requesting denial of American Prairie Reserve grazing permit (Rep. Dan Bartel, R-Lewistown). The American Prairie Reserve as a private landowner has opened up more than 27,000 acres of land to Montana hunters through the Block Management program. In addition, the nonprofit group has opened access to public lands that have been off-limits to public hunters for years.

APR is requesting to change to year-round grazing its leases with the Bureau of Land Management, and MWF has supported that. MWF testified against the resolution in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee.

Other Bills

Several bills have become law in the past week that was clean up measures. They include:

HB 43 Revise landowner elk license laws to allow non-transferable licenses for landowners who sign a contract with FWP to allow public hunters (Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis).  

HB 94 Clarify hunting access programs’ statutes (Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman).

HB 143 Remove sunset on three-day nonresident bird license (Rep. Neil Duram, R-Kalispell).

MWF supported all of the bills.

Looking Ahead

This week will be another busy one as we enter the final month of the Legislature. MWF staff, volunteers and lobbyist will again be busy making sure the voice of Montana’s hunters and anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts are heard in the Capitol. Your participation is important, so stay engaged and check your email, our Facebook page and our website for alerts and information as bills come forward. You can also check our bill tracker for real-time updates on the status of bills.

 

Nick Gevock

Conservation Director