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OUTDOORS Stay informed on sportsmen legislative issues

| February 11, 2021 12:00 AM

In my Jan. 14, 2021 column, I recommended that all hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists should be involved in following the 2021 legislative session because dozens of bills are being considered that will directly affect our treasured Montana hunting, fishing and outdoor heritage.

As is the case for many local, state and federal laws, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Most hunters and anglers do not belong to any sportsmen organization that looks out for their interests.

Dozens of new fish and game laws are under consideration that will affect all citizens of Montana. Hundreds of thousands of Montana citizens hunt, fish and watch wildlife. These wildlife resources are big business in Montana, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to our state economy.

You can find information on all proposed or introduced bills by simply going on the internet and typing in Montana Legislature 2021. If you don’t type in 2021, you may be reviewing bills or proposed bills from the 2019 or 2017 legislative sessions. If you have a specific bill of interest to you, by entering the bill number, you can get the actual language of the bill and its status in the legislative process.

Another way to get information on bills that may affect hunting and fishing, is to type in fish and wildlife in the subject matter slot. The state legislative website is pretty user friendly, so even a novice like me can fumble my way to information.

Let’s take a brief look at two proposed bills of interest to us in the Flathead.

Senate Bill 98, if passed by both chambers of the legislature and signed into law by the governor, would allow landowners and citizens to “take” grizzly bears that are attacking their livestock or threatening themselves or their property. The word “take” is just a politically correct word for killing.

As you know, state and federal bear management experts all agree the “threatened” grizzly bear population now exceeds all state and federal population goals, so bears should be delisted as a federal “threatened” species.

But environmental groups have used sympathetic federal judges to stall delisting.

This legislation is intended to clearly give Montana residents authority to protect themselves, their families and their livestock from marauding bears. I predict it will easily pass the House and Senate and will be signed by the governor.

This legislation is what I call, common sense made hard. A big question to me is whether this new state law allowing Montana citizens to “take” threatening grizzly bears can override federal bear regulations?

Another bill of interest is Senate Bill 143, which intends to reserve many non-resident deer and elk hunting licenses to non-resident hunters that hire a Montana licensed outfitter and guide.

This is not a new hunting license issue, but has been cussed and discussed in many past legislatures. If you have out-of-state friends or relatives that want to hunt in Montana with you, then this legislative proposal will reduce their chance to get a Montana hunting license.

Some Montana hunters do not like to compete with non-resident hunters using the services of a Montana licensed outfitter or guide, so are against any new law that may place more professionally guided hunters on the landscape.

Past law and rule-making has imposed a limit on the number of out-of-state big game licenses that can be sold. These rules limited non-resident licenses to about 17,000 elk licenses and 4,600 deer licenses, with no license preference given to professionally guided hunters.

Currently, non-resident deer and elk licenses are issued on a drawing basis and are over-subscribed. This makes it difficult for guides to sign-up out-of-state hunter clients if they cannot guarantee their clients a hunting license.

Overall, Senate Bill 143 would guarantee licensed guides a large percent of the limited out-of-state hunting licenses.

A related problem with guaranteeing outfitters and guides thousands of non-resident hunting licenses is that when a guide knows he or she has a guaranteed client base and income, they can lease private land for their exclusive use.

This exclusive hunting use of private land can and does allow guides to cut off public access across their leased private ground, which also cuts off access to intermingled public land. That has happened to me. My family and I hunted thousands of acres of public land near our farm. This was both federal Bureau of Land Management and state land open for hunting, but required crossing a hundred yards of private ranch land to gain access to the public land.

Recently, an outfitter and guide operation leased this private ranch and cut off our access to the thousands of acres of the public land we had been hunting. Now this public land is only hunted by the guide and his clients. In recognition of this probable loss of public access to public land, this bill allocates some license revenue to acquire public access to public land.

Overall, Senate Bill 143 will likely be hotly contested by resident hunters, including me.

So, get on the internet and find out who is representing you in the 2021 legislature and let them know your thoughts on these proposed new laws. Our hunting and outdoor heritage is at stake.