Wildlife Report: Week 3

Inside the 2017 Legislature. 

For multiple legislative sessions, we’ve seen persistent and numerous attacks on wildlife, on habitat, and on the authority of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This session is a lot different. Things are slower, and that’s a good thing. The Montana Wildlife Federation and our conservation partners have worked hard over the last few years to beat back bad wildlife laws. In addition, Montana FWP is sound financially, thanks to a hunting and fishing license bill passed last session that standardized the numerous free and reduced priced licenses, and made reforms to the agency’s finances. In a tough budget session like 2017, we’re fortunate that FWP isn’t asking for additional funding.

That said, there were some bill hearings last week. MWF was there to make the voice of hunters, anglers, and other wildlife conservationists heard.

Hatchery Changes
Last week, MWF supported HB 214, sponsored by Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls. It would lift a restriction on the number of fish produced at the Fort Peck Hatchery. This was a basic change needed to get more fish out of the facility, and was supported by Walleyes Unlimited.

Bills Moving Forward
Several bills heard in the past weeks have finally moved out of committee. They include HB 108, which would allocate wild buffalo licenses for tribal purposes, and HB 128, which revises the waiting period for bighorn sheep licenses.

In addition, several bills have come out of their respective chamber, and are moving forward by being sent over to the other legislative body. Those include:

  • HB 98 – revise classifications of striped skunk, civet cat, spotted skunk
  • HB 150 – clarify FWP residency requirement for armed forces member, spouse, and dependent
  • SB 52 – clarify additional penalties for hunting with artificial light
  • SB 84 – extend the paddlefish-roe donation program

Looking Ahead
MWF continues to stay engaged in bills that are being debated. That includes testifying, but also suggesting amendments and working to ensure that any changes benefit wildlife, habitat, and Montana hunters and anglers. A couple bills will also be heard for the first time this week. They include HB 204, sponsored by Rep. Alan Redfield, R-Livingston, to provide new funding for maintenance of fishing access sites; and HB 228, by Jim Keane, D-Butte, which will provide funding for sage-grouse stewardship.

While it’s been a quiet legislative session so far, now MWF needs your help. HB 96, sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman, was a bill that the Private Land / Public Wildlife Council advanced on a consensus decision to improve an existing FWP program that gives elk permits to landowners who allow public hunting. The permits are only good on the landowner’s own land, and cannot be transferred to anyone other than a family member or employee. HB 96 would allow for licenses as well as permits. The bill would only let a landowner, their immediate family, or a full-time employee use the license. It would also increase public hunting by establishing a random draw for public hunters who have successfully drawn permits to hunt either sex elk. But a proposed amendment to HB 96 will let landowners give the tags to anyone, opening the door for abuse, fraud, and under-the-table deals to buy and sell tags.

Montana hunters have long opposed transferable tags for turning wildlife into a commodity. The Private Land / Public Wildlife Committee carefully wrote HB 96 to protect this important Montana value. Now that promise is at risk. Call the Legislature at 444-4800 and tell the House FWP Committee that:

  • The Montana Legislature needs to respect the hard work and compromise that went into HB 96
  • Oppose ANY amendments to HB 96.

For live updates on the current status of any bill, visit the MWF Bill Tracker at montanawildlife.org/billtracker.

Nick Gevock is the Montana Wildlife Federation’s conservation director. You can reach him at [email protected] or 406-458-0227 ex 108.