Outfitter License Bill Creates Tags for Special Interests

Early in the 2021 Montana Legislature, the Senate Fish and Game committee heard from more than a thousand hunters who spoke strongly against a bill to create outfitter-sponsored nonresident big-game licenses. But after the initial effort to create these licenses failed, outfitters slipped a similar measure into a bill at the last minute in a terrible display of swamp-style politics. 

SB 143, sponsored by Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, would have designated 60 percent of all the big game combination licenses for nonresidents as outfitter sponsored tags. The bill failed as proposed. 

Montanans said they support equal chance to draw a license for – including nonresidents who want to come here on a do-it-yourself hunt. But just as important, Montana hunters and non-residents alike were opposed because SB 143 had not been discussed with anyone other than outfitting interests. 

Fast forward about two months, to the final days of the session, and the same thing happened with HB 637, which FWP dubbed its clean-up bill for the session. Special interests had inserted in the bill an amendment that gives unlimited outfitters sponsored licenses this year. And permanently gives nonresident hunters using an outfitter an extra preference point for the coveted combination licenses. 

Montana hunters offered a solution of simply moving up the drawing date, so outfitters would know whom to market their services to. HB 637 is the worst example of a special interest exerting influence over the allocation of our public wildlife. It’s swamp-style politics at its worst. 

MWF joined many of our affiliates and conservation partners requesting the governor veto this bad bill. You can read the letter here.

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Alec Underwood

Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking.