MT BHA 2019 Legislative Recap

Our first session engaging in the Montana Legislature with the help of a lobbyist was a successful one.

While Montana BHA’ers have engaged in state legislative sessions in the past, this added capacity marked a significant increase in the chapter’s level of engagement both inside and outside the Capitol.

The session brought plenty of challenges, but we were able to push back against threats to public access, bad wildlife management policy and an attack on Habitat Montana – a crucial conservation funding source for the state. Additionally, our efforts helped advance good policy to defend our fair chase hunting traditions, improve public access and to help secure and increase conservation funding.

Having a lobbyist in the halls has been extremely beneficial, but at the end of the day, BHA’s real power comes from its members. From packing the Rotunda at the beginning of the session for the Rally for Public Lands to traveling to the Capitol to testify at committee hearings, Montana BHA members – not just our lobbyist – made their physical presence felt in Helena.

Arguably, our members made an even greater impact from outside the halls of the Capitol, placing numerous letters to the editors and guest opinions in papers across the state and submitting more than 11,000 letters to state legislators on priority bills, putting pressure on our elected officials to do the right thing. In a state with just over a million people, this level of engagement is something to be proud of, and legislators in Helena have said as much.

Below is a recap of key legislation we’ve worked on this year, sorted by our priorities:


Conservation Funding

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Image courtesy of Justin Schaaf.

The primary responsibility of the Montana State Legislature is to pass a state budget, determining which programs and projects get funded and for how much. The Montana Chapter of BHA worked this session to ensure key conservation priorities received the necessary funding from the legislature including Habitat Montana, Aquatic Invasive Species prevention and an updated ALS (Automated Licensing System) for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In the end, we saw Habitat Montana fully funded at $8 million for the biennium and funding provided for a much needed update of the ALS system. Fishing access site funding was renewed but an effort to increase funding, by requiring all users to pay their share, failed.

HB 5 – Rep. Jim Keane (D-Butte) - Habitat Montana Funding. Large appropriations bill that includes funding for Habitat Montana, fishing access sites and a variety of other conservation needs. Habitat Montana is an important conservation program that provides funding for conservation easements on private land and creates access opportunities for the public. Hunters fund the program through hunting license fees.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

HB 10 – Rep. Kenneth Holmlund (R-Miles City) – ALS Funding. Appropriations bill that includes funding for an update to Montana’s Automated Licensing System, which provides hunters and anglers with the option to apply online for licenses and drawings. The new system will allow for additional opportunities such as reporting a harvested animal online which is important to hunters and wildlife managers alike.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

HB 265 – Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) – Undermining Habitat Montana. Bill would require approval of Montana State Board of Land Commissioners regarding conservation easements on private land under Habitat Montana. Doing so would politicize conservation easements and undermine a successful and well-supported program. HB 265 was an effort to overturn the Montana Supreme Court’s December 2018 ruling confirming that the Land Board does not need to approve these conservation easements.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Passed but Vetoed by the Governor

HB 411 – Rep. Willis Curdy (D-Missoula) – AIS funding. Bill renews funding for aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention. The AIS program received temporary funding in 2017 through legislation that created fees paid by hydroelectric facilities and anglers. HB 411 makes permanent the invasive species fees on hydroelectric facilities and the AIS prevention pass for anglers. The AIS prevention pass is reduced from $15 to $7.50 and children under 16 are exempt. The bill also increased boat registration fees and contributed the difference to AIS prevention. However, SB 352, a budget bill passed on the final day of the session, voided the increased registration fees and replaced those funds with money from the general fund. Regardless, HB 411 was successful in renewing funding for this important program to prevent AIS introduction into Montana’s waters.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

HB 608 – Rep. Joe Read (R-Ronan) – AIS decontamination of boats. Bill requires all water vessels with ballasts or bladders to be decontaminated upon entering the state or crossing the continental divide. This is another important piece in preventing the introduction of damaging AIS to our waters.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

HJ 17 – Rep. Willis Curdy (D-Missoula) – Resolution on AIS prevention measures. Joint Resolution to the United States Congress asking for funding support and coordination for aquatic invasive species prevention programs across state lines.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Filed with the Secretary of State


Public Access

CrazyAccess-2.jpgImage courtesy of Erik Petersen

Preserving and enhancing public access to our public land is core to BHA’s mission. This session, we supported several good bills to defend and/or expand our right to public land, as well as helped kill bills that would have restricted access. We were successful in defeating attacks on access. The legislature also passed new legislation to create a voluntary program for access through private land.

SB 301 – Rep. Jason Small (R-Busby) – County authority needed to close public roads. Bill would have clarified in law that public roads under county authority may not be closed, abandoned or gated without county approval. This would have added an important step of public accountability in the closing of public roads, by requiring a public vote by elected officials.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled by House Judiciary Committee

SB 341 – Sen. Mark Blasdel (R-Kalispell) – Public access land agreements. SB 341 creates a voluntary program for landowners to provide public access through their land for the purpose of accessing adjacent public land. The new law gives private landowners financial incentive to allow public access with the ability to define the location, mode and time periods for that access.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

HB 207 – Rep. Kerry White (R-Bozeman) – County commission authority over federal rights of way. Bill would have allowed county commissioners to gain authority over federal rights of way, including incredibly primitive RS 2277 roads. This bill would have given undue authority to county commissioners, and would have provided a backdoor route for county commissions to interfere with federal management of public land such as Wilderness Study Areas. The proposal to give county governments authority over federal rights of way not only was bad policy, it also had constitutional problems.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled in House Local Government

HB 550 – Rep. Alan Redfield (R-Livingston) – Revise definition of public road in gas tax laws. Bill would have changed the definition of public road in gas tax law to be “dedicated to public use as determined by an authorized governmental entity.” This shift in authority could give counties the ability to remove public roads from gas tax maps, which are often used as evidence for determining which roads are public.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Dead – Indefinitely postponed by Senate


Wildlife Management

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Image courtesy of Bob Wick

The Montana Chapter also worked to ensure public input in wildlife management decisions and advocated for responsible management of our public fish and wildlife. This session we saw plenty of bad ideas regarding elk management and wolf hunting, a bill to weaken Montana’s sage-grouse management plan, and a bill that would have eliminated public input in wildlife management decisions. Our efforts were largely successful, defeating many of the bad bills and amending others.

HB 161 – Sen. Brad Tschida (R-Missoula) – Removes public comment from FWP decision-making. This misguided bill would have prevented Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks from using public input in making management decisions.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled by House Fish Wildlife and Parks Committee

HB 497 – Rep. Wylie Galt (R-Martinsdale) – Allow additional elk to be harvested during shoulder season. This bill exempts elk harvested during shoulder season from the limit of harvesting two elk during a license year. However, thanks to vocal opposition from hunters, the bill was amended on the House floor to remove the reference to the shoulder season and cap elk tags at three with Commission approval. With the amendments, our major concerns were addressed and our position changed from oppose to neutral.

BHA Position: Opposed then Neutral after amendments
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

HB 509 – Gordon Pierson (D-Deer Lodge) – 3rd Party Wildlife Counts. This bill would have required independent 3rd party verification of FWP wildlife counts, adding an expensive and unnecessary level of bureaucracy while also providing an avenue for those with a political axe to grind to call into question the scientific data.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled by House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee

HJ 18 – Rep. Wylie Galt (R-Martinsdale) – Resolution on elk management and shoulder seasons. Resolution encourages the Fish and Wildlife Commission to allow general licenses to be used during shoulder season, provide for "liberal numbers" of B tags, allow hunters to purchase multiple B tags, and allow for party hunting. The resolution was amended on the House floor to remove the party hunts provision (the most controversial piece) and add a provision to publish a list of private landowners participating in the shoulder season. Both changes were improvements to the resolution. However, it was also amended to encourage the inclusion of public land adjacent to private lands in shoulder season hunts, leaving elk with no winter refuge in those areas.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Passed and Filed with the Secretary of State

SB 185 – Sen. Mike Philips (D-Bozeman) – Prohibit hunting wolves near Yellowstone. This bill would have prohibited wolf hunting in the areas of Montana adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. This negates the authority of FWP professionals to manage wildlife in Montana. Predator hunting regulations, like all wildlife management decisions, should be made by the FWP and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, not politicians in the Capitol.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled by Senate Fish and Game Committee

SB 299 – Sen. Mike Lang (R-Malta) – Sage grouse conservation. The original version of SB 299 would have undermined Montana’s sage grouse management plan by exempting “existing land uses,” defined as including mining, oil and gas, and other industrial activities. As introduced, it would put us on a crash course with federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, resulting in Montana losing management authority over sage grouse. Under significant public pressure, the bill was amended in conference committee to address the significant problems with the bill and even include important conservation measures.

BHA Position: Oppose then Neutral after amendments
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor


Fair Chase

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Image courtesy of Alex Kim

The Montana Chapter supported four bills this session that would help prevent wildlife data misuse, and a resolution to study how wildlife data is handled. We also helped kill a bill that would have allowed crossbows to be used for hunting during archery season.

SB 127 – Sen. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena) – Prohibit sale of wildlife identifying info for hunting. This bill would have helped preserve fair chase ethics in hunting by preventing the sale of identifying information like GPS waypoints for big game hunting. Currently, those with money can buy the exact locations of wild game, giving them an unfair and unsportsmanlike hunting advantage.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled by House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee

SB 174 – Rep. Doug Kary (R-Billings) – Allowing crossbow during archery season. This bill would have allowed the use of crossbows during archery season for disabled hunters and hunters over 70. It would set a precedent that, in other states, has led to crossbows being allowed for all hunters during archery season.

BHA Position: Oppose
Bill Status: Dead – Failed on Senate Floor Vote

SB 283 – Sen. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena) – Guidelines for fish & wildlife GPS data. Currently, FWP must provide the public with fish and wildlife location information upon request. Such data, if misused, could harm fish and wildlife and erode fair chase in Montana. The bill would have created guidelines for how FWP handles such requests, allowing FWP to deny requests for such data if it were to be used for hunting or in a way that could harm wildlife.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Dead – Tabled by Senate Fish and Game Committee

SB 349 – Rep. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena) – Protect fish and wildlife locations from misuse. Bill was brought after SB 283 failed. Bill makes it illegal to use any coordinate location data obtained from FWP to harm, harass or kill fish and wildlife.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Signed by the Governor

SJ 30 - Rep. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena) – Interim study on fish and wildlife data. This resolution requests a study during the interim to look at the dissemination of wildlife location data to the public by FWP and consider policies to restrict access to that data.

BHA Position: Support
Bill Status: Passed and Filed with Secretary of State

 

 


All in all, we’re motivated by the final results from the 2019 Montana Legislative Session, and will continue to work to strengthen our fair chase hunting heritage, keep public lands public, ensure access to our public lands, and maintain and enhance the quality of Montana's fish and wildlife habitat.


Our work never ends. We definitely have our work cut out for us, and the fundraising campaign to support our legislative program for the 2021 session has already started. You can help by joining us or renewing your membership here or making a tax-deductible donation to BHA here.

 

Onward,

 

-The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

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