Op-Ed: Former Montana FWC chairs think new Republican legislation will hurt most anglers and hunters


Since winning the Legislature in 2011, Republicans have introduced multiple pieces of legislation undermining Montana’s great hunting and fishing.  Fortunately, successive Democratic governors vetoed them.  The veto pen now belongs to Greg Gianforte.

The 2021 Legislature is considering a bevy of legislation changing Montana’s hunting and fishing. Montanans who voted for these legislators and who love to hunt and fish, should contact legislators and let them know you do not support these bills.

Senate Bill 143 sets aside big game licenses for non-residents using outfitters and will reduce Montanans’ hunting opportunities.  With license certainty, outfitters can lease more land since they know their customers have the licenses necessary to hunt in the fall.  Further, SB143 overturns the will of Montana voters who ended this set aside through an initiative in 2010.  This is not a change Montana voters support.

Although tabled, HB241 requires the Commission to allow hunting by non-tribal members on fee lands within a reservation.  HB241 will reduce hunting opportunity for Montanans on thousands of acres now accessible to hunters.  It threatens our recreational opportunity and, most importantly, our working relationship with sovereign tribes just so a few folks can hunt big game on non-tribal land within the reservation.

HJ5 opposes federal taxation of guns.  Federal firearm excise taxes provide significant funding for access and habitat in Montana.  The Pittman-Robertson funds have been good for Montana since it was passed 34 years ago.   Tax revenues have purchased thousands of acres of public access and habitat.  They help pay for our state parks, our fishing access sites, and our Wildlife Management Areas.  The tax does not infringe on our 2nd Amendment rights.   Its proceeds are good for MT wildlife and hunters.

House Speaker Galt has requested a bill to codify late season elk hunts in state statute.  If the final version is similar to Speaker Galt’s 2019 resolution, Speaker Galt’s bill will strip the Fish and Wildlife Commission of the authority and flexibility to manage our public elk. Permanent shoulder seasons will create two hunting seasons: the general season where outfitted clients hunt bulls with outfitters on private lands (while Montanans hunt on public lands), and the shoulder season where less well-heeled non-residents and Montanans are invited to private lands to shoot cow elk.

LC 2770 repeals special permits for bull elk across Montana, Missouri Breaks, Snowies, the Elkhorns, and any other Hunting District that is over objective.  An attempt to undo limited archery permits in districts with limited rifle permits, LC 2770 will increase leasing of land by hunters and outfitters and, most concerning, will also make the elk herds in the open prairie incredibly vulnerable to over-hunting – potentially destroying 80 years of elk’s successful return to Montana’s prairie.

These bills fundamentally change Montana. Montana restored its wildlife with the help of Montana sportsmen and sportswomen, federal firearm tax proceeds, and a strong working relationship between FWP, tribes, and Montanans.  Montana has consistently encouraged as much opportunity as possible for Montanans and non-residents regardless of income.  These bills will destroy that balance.   Contact your legislators and ask them to oppose these bills.  If they pass the legislature, ask Gov. Gianforte to veto them.

Shane Colton, Dan Vermillion, and Steve Doherty
Former Chairmen, Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission


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