We're just over one quarter of the way done with the 2023 Montana legislative session. A lot has happened the last five weeks, with even more on deck.
Here's a quick recap showing what bills Montana BHA has engaged in, what's coming, and how you can help.
What We've Engaged In
SB 58 - Increase landowner payment cap for block management - requested by FWP and sponsored by Sen. Hinebauch (R - Wibaux). Here's more on our strong support of this bill which passed the Senate and has been transmitted to the House.
HB 261 - Revise e-bike laws - sponsored by Rep. Gunderson (R - Libby). This bill is confusing, unnecessary and problematic. Read more here and please contact your Rep. asking them to oppose it during the upcoming House floor vote.
SB 84 - Revise laws related to hunting and aircraft use - requested by FWP and sponsored by Sen. Brown (R - Trout Creek). Here's an LTE explaining our support from Montana BHA board member Corey Ellis. The bill passed the Senate and has been transmitted to the House.
HB 74 - Eliminate requirement to release pheasants from Upland Game Bird Program - requested by FWP and sponsored by Rep. Fitzgerald (R - Fairfield). We've supported this during hearings in the House and Senate, where it currently is being considered by Senate Fish & Game Committee members; learn why here.
HB 146 - Create landowner preference to hunt deer and antelope - requested by FWP/EQC and sponsored by Rep. Kassmier (R - Fort Benton). While we acknowledged that this practice is already in rule, we opposed the bill and suggested some amendments to the Senate Fish & Game that would help to earn our support. The bill passed the House and is currently being considered by Senate Fish & Game.
HB 243 - Revise hunter education laws - sponsored by Rep. Marler (D - Missoula). Read more from Montana BHA member Marty Maddalena on why this is a good move for the hunting community. The bill passed the House FWP Committee, one floor vote and was heard on Feb 6th in House Appropriations.
HB 133 - Allow nonresident college students to purchase FWP licenses online - requested by FWP/EQC and sponsored by Rep. Miner (R - Stockett). This cleanup bill allows college students to buy licenses online just like anyone else. The bill passed the House, was transmitted to the Senate and has cleared the Senate Fish & Game Committee.
HB 86 - Remove sunset for the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program - requested by FWP and sponsored by Rep. Walsh (R - Twin Bridges). We supported this with testimony in committee. The bill passed the House, was transmitted to the Senate and has cleared the Senate Fish & Game Committee. It’s now up for a floor vote in the Senate.
SB 76 - Remove requirement to attach paper tags to a game animal carcass - requested by FWP and sponsored by Sen. McClafferty (D - Butte). We supported this cleanup bill with testimony in committee. The bill passed the Senate and has been transmitted to the House.
HB 162 - Revise electronic tag law - requested by FWP/EQC and sponsored by Rep. Mitchell (R - Columbia Falls). We supported this cleanup bill with testimony in committee. The bill passed the House, was transmitted to the Senate and has cleared the Senate Fish & Game Committee. It’s now up for a floor vote in the Senate.
A bill that would cap the number of non-resident hunters, strengthen the language prohibiting the transfer of licenses, give residents the right of first refusal for surplus licenses, and overall put 'Montana Hunters First' will be a priority for us. Stay tuned for ways to learn more and support this.
We're also tracking upcoming bills related to revising FWP instream water rights, improving existing public access programs, changing non-resident bird hunting regulations, limiting non-residents to one or two doe tags each, setting restrictions around commercial bird dog training on public lands, creating a hunter/angler-sourced community fund, and confirming Governor Gianforte's appointees for the Fish and Wildlife Commission (more on how the Commission is confirmed and why they’re important in our new video below).
Plus! Bills that would prohibit the sale of data/images collected from trail cams on public lands, limit the length of conservation easements, attack Habitat Montana funding, phase out the prison's pheasant rearing program, risk hunting opportunities on tribal lands, add penalties to trespassing while shed hunting, and more are all also on deck.
But that's not all! Legislative attempts that would require the Fish & Wildlife Commission be elected, legalize the use of crossbows for disabled hunters during archery seasons, amend Montana’s Constitution, increase penalties for illegally blocking/gating public roads, de-emphasize landowner tolerance in setting elk population objectives, and more are coming down the pike too.
And don't forget, we're cohosting a Rally for Public Lands in Helena on February 23rd and hope you can join us!
How to Help
Make your voice heard inside the building where the decisions are made! Making phone calls and sending emails to your representatives or committee members, providing online testimony or delivering in person or virtually during hearings are all impactful options. Learn more here.
Make your voice heard outside the building! Penning letters to the editor, sharing social media posts, submitting opinion pieces, or just having discussions at the dinner table, at the bar or while staring through a hole in the ice are all impactful ways to generate actions from the outside in.
Support our efforts in Helena! Our two part-time lobbyists, two staff and dozen volunteer leaders are working hard in the Capitol and across the state. You can help by joining or renewing your BHA membership, by buying Montana BHA license plates, rocking our latest merchandise, or buying a raffle ticket to win an Adipose drift boat! Every little bit helps, and we greatly appreciate your support.
Stay tuned for more ways to engage and actions to take to protect our Montana sporting heritage.
-The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers