Bison, Grizzlies & Wolves, Oh My!

Wildlife news from the Capitol. 

Bills are really moving in the 2019 Legislature, and the Montana Wildlife Federation again testified, lobbied, and engaged our grassroots members to show up and make our voices heard. Here is the rundown from the past week in the halls of the Montana Capitol:

Easement Bill Advances
Last year the landowners, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts of Montana won a big victory when the state Supreme Court ruled that Habitat Montana conservation easements are not required to go through the state Land Board. It was an unnecessary layer of government that had begun to stifle lands projects up to two years in the works. HB 265, sponsored by Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, would undo that and again require Land Board approval for easements. MWF rallied the Montana Sporting Coalition to oppose the bill in the House FWP committee, but it passed out. Our partners hit the floor with numerous messages from members, but on Friday the bill passed out of the House 57-43 and moves to the Senate.

Wildlife Locations Bill
SB 127, sponsored by Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, would bar the selling of information on specific big-game animals. It upholds Montana’s longstanding fair-chase hunting ethic and gets us ahead of the trend of people selling specific GPS coordinates for animals. The bill passed the Senate Fish and Game Committee this week and awaits a floor vote.

Grizzly Resolution
MWF opposed SJ 6, Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, a resolution calling for a Congressional delisting of grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act list for the entire state. The bill would make all of Montana a distinct population segment under the ESA and actually set back delisting efforts for some populations by years.

Anti-Public Wildlife Bill Goes Down
HB 161 (Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Lolo) would have taken the public out of public wildlife. It would have limited decision making by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to consider a very narrow group of stakeholders—landowners—and kept hunters, anglers, and nearly everyone else out of decision making. The bill died in the House FWP committee 9-9 and was a big win for public hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts.

Wolf Licensing
HB 280, which adds a wolf license for resident hunters onto the sportsman’s license for an extra $10, passed the House on Friday. Another bill, HB 407 (Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls) was heard in the House FWP that would drop additional wolf licenses from the current $19 to $12. MWF supported both.

State Parks Funding Advances
SB 24 (Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena) would increase the fee on motor vehicle licensing from the current $6 to $9, and allocate the money to state parks, fishing-access sites, and trails. The bill drew broad support from numerous interests but was rejected by the Senate Fish and Game Committee before it was blasted onto the Senate floor. It passed with a strong 31-19 bipartisan vote this week and is heading to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.

Preference Points & New Hunters
HB 397 (Rep. Matt Regier, R-Columbia Falls) would extend for three years the timeframe for non-residents who apply for deer and combination big game licenses to keep their preference points. And HB 360 (Rep. Matt Regier, R-Columbia Falls) would give first-time resident hunters a half-price license in an effort to incentivize new hunters. The bill had a very small reduction in funding for FWP, and MWF supported both it and HB 397.

Bison Bill
A bill that would give county commissions the authority to approve or deny bison transplants was heard this week in the House Agriculture Committee. HB 332 (Rep. Joshua Kassmier, R-Ft. Benton) would extend wildlife management decisions to county commissions, even though they have no professional wildlife staff. MWF opposed the bill.

As we approach the transmittal deadline when many bills must pass one chamber of the Legislature, expect the pace to keep picking up, so check our Bill Tracker for the latest updates. And for more frequent updates, please join the MWF Legislative Action Team.

Nick Gevock is the conservation director for MWF.