Montana EQC Votes on I-193

Today, Montana’s Environmental Quality Council held a hearing to discuss I-193, the proposed ballot initiative that would prevent landowners from being prohibited from hunting black bears, deer or elk on their property.

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R) and the Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen (Rhave both already signed off on this initiative, so today’s hearing was to give members of the EQC a chance to review and vote to - or not to - support this.

No one from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks showed up for the hearing, and Dir. Temple later issued a statement explaining that “Montana statute prevents state agencies from taking any position on citizen-led ballot initiatives.”

There were 86 recorded public comments before the deadline, with another 36 received after the deadline. All but the initiative's requester were against the initiative.

There were 45 individuals to provide comment on Zoom; all were against the initiative besides Rep. Joe Read (R - Ronan) who sponsored similar, failed legislation in 2021, and Mr. Schoening, the initiative's requester.

Montana BHA was one of many opponents to provide testimony, arguing that in places where this is justified, landowners can already get deer, elk or bear tags over-the-counter, and in places where this is problematic, like in limited-entry districts and within boundaries of tribal reservations, this would force the hand of wildlife managers and have significant negative impacts. 

We also said that despite Mr. Schoening’s intentions and personal interpretation of this text, it’s so broad that we can’t even begin to estimate the problems this will create. For example, 'landowner' isn’t defined and could include overseas corporations with many owners.

We flagged that while bag limits must be followed, that’s not the same as quotas, which many black bear districts have. There are no considerations for overharvests from hunters in this initiative.

Montana BHA pointed out that there’s no acreage requirements either, which is a safety concern. 

We called this what it is: ballot box biology at its worst.

After public comments, Rep. Marler (D-Missoula) suggested a do not support, arguing that it’s too broad, there was zero tribal consultation, and this will undoubtedly lead to legal challenges from the tribes, which she believes they will win.

Rep. Karlen (D-Missoula), as did many commenters, pointed out that non-tribal landowners within tribal reservations knew the rules associated with the lands they were purchasing when they purchased them.

Sen. Hinebauch (R-Wibaux), a yes vote on this initiative, said ‘let them sue us.’ 

Rep. Hinkle (R-Belgrade), somehow tried to argue that this would be in the benefit of the public trust, and voted to support the initiative.

Chair Gunderson (R-Libby), argued that there are two classes of hunters - landowners and all others - and he supported this initiative.

Mr. Keane, public member of EQC and a former democratic representative from Butte, opposed this and offered a tongue-in-cheek response that this unnecessary initiative will surely fill some lawyers' coffers.

The vote:

All republican members of the EQC voted to support this - Chair Gunderson, Sen. Brown, Sen. Bartell, Sen. Hinebauch, Sen. Manzella, Rep. Fielder, Rep. Hinkle and Rep. Knudsen

All democratic members of the EQC voted to oppose this - Vice Chair Curdy, Sen. Flowers, Rep. Marler and Rep. Karlen

All public members of the EQC voted to oppose this - Mr. Galt, Mr. Keane, Mr. Vermillion and Mr. Metropoulos

Regardless of today’s hearing, the language of this initiative is final and will go to voters for signatures in order to get on the ballot, but will now include language that says EQC “did not support the placement of the proposed text of this initiative on the ballot” by a vote of 8-8, since a majority vote was needed to support, and they fell one vote short of that.

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