It's been a fast and furious few months, and we now find ourselves at the halfway mark of the Montana legislative session. We've been in the halls of the Capitol lobbying every day since the session started, and thanks to our members speaking up and making their voices heard, we've got a lot to celebrate - but a lot of work yet to be done.
The transmittal deadline means that bills with a good chance to see the light of day will have passed through one chamber and have been sent to the other for review. This time of the session allows us to get a clearer picture of where things stand, what we should celebrate and what we should be prepared to support or oppose during the important second half of the session.
Here's an abbreviated recap of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' involvement in the 2019 legislative session thus far.
First, the GOOD NEWS -
BHA-supported bills that are moving forward:
• SB 127 – Sen. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena) - Prohibit the sale of wildlife identifying info for hunting. Bill helps preserve fair chase hunting by preventing the sale of identifying info like GPS waypoints of big game. One of our members recently weighed in here. Passed committee and Senate, headed to the House.
• SB 224 Sen. Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls) - Generally revise laws related to county road access. Bill would increase the fine from $10 to up to $80 (was amended down from $500) for each day a public road is illegal gated, discouraging lawbreakers who block public access. Read thoughts from a BHA member and landowner here. Passed committee, pending Senate vote.
• HB 38 – Rep. Denley Loge (R-Saint Regis) - Allow interagency transfer of excess property. Bill would allow state agency transfer of excess property at potentially less than fair market value, reducing bureaucracy in land transfer between state agencies, helping facilitate such things as creating new fishing access sites. Passed committee and House, headed to Senate.
BHA-opposed bills that are likely defeated:
• HB 161 – Rep. Brad Tschida (R-Missoula) - Establish requirements for fish and wildlife decision-making processes. This bill would have removed public comment - except concerns from private landowners - from the FWP decision-making process. Tabled in committee.
• HB 207 – Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) - Allow counties to review federal rights of way. This bill would have given county commissioners authority over federal rights of way including RS 2477 roads, a direct threat to Wilderness Study Areas and a huge potential economic burden to counties. Tabled in committee.
• SB 174 – Sen. Doug Kary (R-Billings) - Authorize crossbow hunt for disabled or over 70. This bill would opened the door for the use of crossbows during archery season, using an arbitrary age restriction that would be challenged in court. Passed committee but was defeated by Senate vote, partially because of the existing Permit to Modify Archery Equipment for disabled hunters.
• HB 509 – Rep. Gordon Pierson (D-Deer Lodge) - Require third party verification of wildlife population counts. Bill would require costly independent 3rd party verification of wildlife counts when there is no evidence of a problem with the current FWP counts. Tabled in committee.
BHA-opposed bills that have been improved via amendments:
• HJ 18 – Rep. Wylie Galt (R-Martinsdale) - Resolution urging enhancement of elk management/shoulder season regulations. Resolution would encourage the FWP Commission to consider various attempts to increase the number of elk B harvests and allow for party hunting. Public land owners spoke up in opposition of the resolution, specifically the 'party hunting' provision. The resolution was amended on the House floor to remove the mention of 'party hunts' and add a provision to publish a list of private landowners participating in the shoulder season. Passed committee and House, headed to Senate.
• HB 497 – Rep. Wylie Galt (R-Martinsdale) - Allow additional elk to be harvested during shoulder season. Bill would exempt elk harvested during shoulder season from the limit of harvesting two elk during a license year. Bill was amended on the House floor to remove the reference to the shoulder season and cap elk tags at three with FWP Commission approval. Passed committee and House, headed to Senate.
We've still got our work cut out for us.
BHA-supported bill that unfortunately died:
• SB 283 – Sen. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena) - Establishing guidelines for wildlife location data. Bill is much like SB 127 (the GPS waypoints bill) but deals with how sensitive FWP data is handled and attempts to prevent this data from being used in ways that would threaten fair chase. Tabled in committee and blast motion narrowly failed (25-25) on the Senate floor.
BHA-opposed bills that haven't been defeated yet:
• HB 265 – Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) - Revise laws related to approval of FWP easements. Bill would require approval of Montana Land Board for land acquisition and easements, thus politicizing conservation easements. This bill is a direct reaction to Montana Supreme Court’s December 2018 ruling. The entire Montana Sporting Coalition opposes this bill. Passed committee and House, headed to Senate.
• SB 299 – Sen. Mike Lang (R-Malta) - Generally revise laws related to sage grouse conservation. Bill would make “existing land uses” – defined as including mining, oil and gas, and other industrial activity - exempt from sage-grouse conservation, undermining Montana’s sage grouse management plan and putting us on a crash course with a federal listing under the Endangered Species Act. Passed committee and Senate, headed to House.
Other bills awaiting action that BHA supports:
• HB 5 – Rep. Jim Keane (D-Butte) - Long-Range Building Appropriations. Includes funding for Habitat MT and FAS (plus lots of other stuff).
• HB 10 – Rep. Kenneth Holmlund - Long-Range Information Technology Appropriations. Includes appropriation for updated ALS system.
• HB 301 – Rep. Denley Loge (R-Saint Regis) - Requires parking pass and conservation license for fishing site access.
• HB 411 – Rep. Willis Curdy (D-Missoula) – Revise laws related to AIS expenditures and funding. Provides funding for aquatic invasive species prevention, requiring all users and affected entities - including hydroelectric facilities - to pay their fair share to help prevent the spread of invasive aquatics.
• HJ 17 – Rep. Willis Curdy (D-Missoula) - Joint resolution to congress asking to fund aquatic invasive species programs. Joint Resolution to US Congress asking for funding and coordination for aquatic invasive species prevention.
Other bills awaiting action that BHA is watching:
• LC 983 - Establish public access land act.
• SB 301 – Sen. Jason Small (R-Busby) - Provide county commissioners must approve public road closures. Passed Senate, headed to House.
• HB 550 - Rep. Alan Redfield (R-Livingston) - Revise definition of public road in gas tax laws. Would result in a loss of public access.
As you can see, there's a lot going on! And we could use your help!
Stay tuned for updates and calls to action. The MT legislature moves at an incredibly fast pace - sometimes too quick for us even to send out a statewide email; the best way to stay engaged is to follow us on social media, on Instagram or on Facebook, and when you see an action alert, please heed the call! Your voice matters and - as you can see here - it truly makes a difference.
Consider supporting our work in Helena by joining or renewing your BHA membership here.
-The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers