Friday, April 23, 2021

Time to get involved in legislative issues

| January 14, 2021 12:00 AM

Our hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, trapping and other outdoor recreation heritage rights are up for review and possible modification because the 2021 Montana legislative session is underway in Helena.

As one old friend put it, “…neither life nor liberty are safe when the Montana legislature is in session.”

The 2021 legislative session is just getting underway. Will new laws and regulations be proposed that affect how we hunt and fish?

You can bet 100% on that. In the 2019 legislative session, there were 80 introduced bills (proposed changes in laws) that concerned fish and wildlife management. Another 85 bills were drafted but never got formally introduced.

Proposed 2019 bills included revising bird hunting laws, revise landowner elk licenses, established requirements for fish and wildlife decision making, proposed wolf trapping expense reimbursement and revised trapping regulations.

Every recent legislative session has had several proposed new laws relating to wolf management. Wolves are still a hot button wildlife issue in Montana.

There are a lot of Montana folks that either love them or dislike them because they kill and eat our valued deer and elk.

Trapping is constantly under legislative siege. There are some folks that believe hunting, fishing and trapping are primitive pursuits and should be outlawed.

But hunting and fishing are so popular in Montana that it is currently impossible to pass laws that greatly restrict hunting and fishing.

But the “anti’s” know this, so they tend to concentrate their legislative efforts to restrict trapping because there are fewer trappers in Montana.

But most hunter and fishing organizations strongly support trappers because they know that as soon as trapping is eliminated, hunting and fishing is next on the anti’s list for elimination.

There will also be proposed legislation that can benefit certain segments of our population such as landowners and outfitters.

Many of these proposals are probably not in the general public interest. In Central Montana there are many large ranches that are over-populated with elk.

Many landowners would like to have Montana implement what is generally called, “ranching for wildlife.”

Other western states have laws that allow the state to give large landowners free deer and elk licenses to use or sell, in return for some public access to their ranches and wildlife populations. Wildlife is generally held to be a public resource, so some folks believe it is morally wrong to give large landowners a wildlife harvesting advantage.

A bull elk tag on a private ranch with a healthy elk population and good bulls can be sold to out-of-state hunters for thousands of dollars.

Outfittters and guides are always seeking legislative ways to enhance their business operations. There is nothing wrong with that. This is America and they have a right to propose actions that will enhance their businesses.

The Montana constitution clearly establishes that all wildlife, both on public land and private land, belong to the people of Montana.

But is up to legislators and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to regulate how some wildlife such as big game is distributed between Montana hunters and non-resident hunters.

A Montana resident general elk license costs $20 while a non-resident elk license costs $884. So, outfitters have an economic advantage for their argument for more non-resident licenses.

So, I encourage all of you to go on-line and track legislative proposals. The state legislative website is pretty easy to follow. But it does take a little effort to learn the system. Complete wording of all proposed legislation is on-line. Once you see what is being proposed, contact your legislator and express your support or opposition.

Some legislators have told me they get only one or two calls from citizens each day. So, a couple of calls can influence a legislator’s vote.

You can use the legislative Information Desk telephone number of 406-444-4800 to leave a message for five legislators with just one call.

I plan to track some important fish and wildlife legislative proposals and will report on some of these proposals in future Flathead Outdoor columns.

Fish and wildlife resources belong to all of us, so get involved in how these resources are managed.