MT BHA Legislation Summary

The following is a summary of legislation that MT BHA has been working on as of 3/18/13.

The 2013 Montana Legislative Session is almost 2/3 completed and with it there have been a number of bills that have the potential to positively or negatively impact the future of hunting and fishing in the state.  The MT Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has been keeping tabs on bills that could affect the following issues:                                                                      

  • Public Land Habitat Management

  • Hunting and Angling Opportunities

  • Access to Hunting and Angling

As we are a bi-partisan group of hunters and anglers, we tried to focus on issues where consensus exists among our membership.  We find broad consensus when we focus our efforts on habitat, access and hunting and angling opportunities. We have notified our members of upcoming bills and MT BHA assessment of how these bills affect fish or wildlife habitats as well as sportsment opportunities.

The following is a list of bills we have been watching and where possible MT BHA has provided input and guidance to legislative committees and their members:

Non-Resident Licenses and Wilderness

HB 161: Non-Resident Wilderness Licenses. The bill would have provided for an additional 10,000 non-resident hunting licenses in wilderness areas only.  MT BHA believes this issue should be addressed through science and the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission process – not by using Forest Service administrative boundaries and politics.   This legislation wouldn’t have just affected hunting opportunities in the Bob Marshall or the Beartooths, but also very small wilderness areas such as Welcome Creek, Red Rocks and UL Bend.  This bill was tabled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee by the sponsor.

SB 380:  Non-Resident Wilderness Licenses. Similar in nature to HB 161, this bill would provide for 1,500 nonresident big game combination licenses solely for us in wilderness areas.  Again, in Montana, we have a proven method of distributing licenses and tags. MT FWP and our Fish and Game Commission set harvest rates according to population objectives and game surveys, not Forest Service boundaries. This bill would set a bad precedent and injects politics into what should be a decision based on sound science and the role of the Fish and Game Commission.

As with HB 161, it is important to note that this legislation wouldn’t just affect hunting opportunities in the Bob Marshall or the Beartooths. It would include wilderness areas like the Anaconda Pintlar, the Cabinets and the smaller areas like Welcome Creek, Red Rocks and UL Bend. At the time this summary was completed, the bill was awaiting executive action by the Senate Fish and Game Committee.

Accessing Public Lands

HB 235:  “Corner Crossing” to Access Public Lands. This bill would have allowed hunter access to public land by crossing at the section corners where public lands meet. It would have provided for an amendment to the Montana’s trespass laws and opened up hundreds of over ¾ million acres of public land for public hunting and recreation, particularly in eastern Montana. Even though this bill was the focus of a massive support rally by hunters and anglers at the state capital, it died on the floor of the House.

Public Acquisition of Habitat

HB 404: This bill would reduce the percentage of monies used to purchase wildlife habitat around the state and allocate those funds to the Block Management Program. While in principal it sounds good but from a practical stand point, if the funding is removed from the Habitat Montana Program, the full percentage allocated to habitat will likely never be restored.  Potential impacts of this bill include limiting MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks ability to acquire important habitat and conduct important research. At the time of this summary, this bill had been passed on Second Reading by the House and sent to the House Appropriations Committee for a hearing.

License Allocation for Non-Residents

HB 418: would have increased the non-resident cap on licenses and special permits for big game from the current 10 percent to 15 percent.   According to our conservation allies working at the legislature, every state that has gone beyond the 10 percent cap for nonresidents has seen that number only steadily increase over the years. The bill also included a provision that would allow more than 15 percent of tags go to nonresidents in some cases.

MT BHA’s main concerns with this bill included:

  • The state’s wildlife is not for sale and should not be managed for maximum profit.
  • Non-resident hunters are welcome, but there are already 28,500+ deer and elk hunting opportunities for nonresidents.
  • The state’s 10 percent cap is a good balance between opportunity and quality hunting for non-residents.
  • State law requires that wildlife be managed primarily for the benefit of resident hunters and this would undercut that by upping the percentage of nonresident hunters allowed.

This bill was tabled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

Use of Motorized Vehicles for Game Retrieval

HB 512  This bill would have allowed the retrieval of game animals using motor vehicles on State Trust Lands or Wildlife Management Area for individuals 60 years or older between the times of 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM.  MT BHA opposed this bill for the following reasons:

  • It would have opened the door for widespread abuse.
  • Would have increased the spread of noxious weeds. 
  • Would be unfair to hunters who are afield midday, still trying to find a deer or pronghorn. 
  • Would have scared game off school trust lands and on to neighboring private lands.
  • Would have been an administrative and enforcement nightmare.
  • Would have been an issue for State Land management as they include forest lands with gates and road closures. 

 This bill was tabled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

Forest Jobs and Recreation Act

HJ8: Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is on record supporting Senator John Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA) which would create almost 700,000 acres of wilderness in Montana, provides funding to restore damaged habitats and assures local timber-based communities a sustainable flow of timber .   BHA supports the FJRA because it brought together Montanans: loggers, sportsmen and conservationists, and focuses on restoring and conserving prime elk habitat and trout streams on the Kootenai, Lolo and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests.

Unfortunately, the Act was under attack at the Montana Legislature through House Joint Resolution 8 (HJ8). It was a joint resolution in opposition to the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (HJ8).   HJ8 would have notified the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States that the Montana Legislature supposedly stood in opposition to the Act.  This resolution was tabled in House Natural Resources Committee.

Enforcement of Fish and Game Laws

SB 193: Increased Pay for Game Wardens.  This bill would have increased the pay of game wardens through an additional $10.00 charge to each non-resident conservation licenses.  MT BHA supported this bill as it would have provided greater compensation to those hard working individuals enforcing hunting and angling laws and travel management rules, but should provide an incentive for highly qualified people to pursue being a game warden as a career. Unfortunately this bill never made it to a committee hearing before the Senate Fish and Game Committee.

About Caitlin Thompson