Committee tables bill tapping hunting license dollars for wildlife crop damage

A bill that would have tapped hunter license dollars to pay for elk damage to crops in areas well over population objectives and limited permits passed an initial vote in the House on Tuesday before being voted down in the appropriations committee.

House Bill 697 from Rep. Joshua Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, would allow compensation only in hunting districts where elk populations are 200% over objective or more, and where the state limits elk hunting permits. Kassmier brought an amendment to the bill on the House floor Tuesday which would have capped payments at $3 million annually with potential to increase, and no longer required the funding to come from the Habitat Montana account, which is used for habitat and access programs. The amendment also added a public access section to the bill, stating that allowing one or more people to hunt constituted public access.

The amendment came amid concern that the original bill put at risk $28 million in federal funding going to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Kassmier said. By moving the funding from Habitat Montana and adding public access, he believed the bill would continue to allow the state to qualify for restrictions on expenditure of license dollars tied to the federal dollars. Plus, if the state removed limited permits or managed elk to objectives, the fiscal impact would be zero, he added.

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