Monday, April 12, 2021

Words of praise for online licensing system

| March 11, 2021 12:00 AM

Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

The near impossible has happened! Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has revised their on-line licensing system and it works!

If you were like me and tried in recent years to buy hunting and fishing licenses on-line, you probably found that site extremely difficult, if not impossible to navigate. Certainly, not user friendly.

Last spring, I could never fully navigate their system. So, I always had to resort to the old system of either visiting or calling the local FWP office to buy my licenses or apply for special hunting tags.

I must commend those FWP front desk folks for always being very friendly, helpful and patient with me.

Last spring, somewhat exasperated by their goofy system, I complained to the local front desk person who said lots of folks were having similar problems. Then the person added, “…every time Helena tries to correct the problems, the worse it gets!”

All the 2021 hunting regulations are available on-line. FWP says hard copies should be available next week.

So, what is happening in the legislature that will affect hunting and fishing?

There are no less than 50-60 separate bills being considered. Last week, any bill introduced in either the senate or house had to clear that chamber by last Wednesday and forwarded to the other chamber.

Senate Bill 98, which generally relaxes the law allowing citizens to kill grizzly bears that are threatening their livestock, property or people, passed the Senate on a 32-18 vote.

All our local senators voted in favor of that bill as did most of the other Republicans in the senate. Most of the Democrats voted against the legislation. I wonder how many of those folks that voted against the legislation live or work in grizzly country?

Certainly, if your place of residence is Billings and you don’t venture into the back country, there is no reason not to have lots of grizzlies wandering about.

But if you live in the Flathead, having grizzlies roaming in your back yard can be is a deadly challenge.

With the Republicans having a large majority in the House, I suspect this bill will pass that chamber and be signed into law by the Governor.

Senate Bill 143, which started out giving the clients of commercial outfitters a large share of the limited non-resident deer and elk tags, has passed the senate by a slim 27 to 23 margin.

To pass the senate, all the guaranteed outfitter licenses, first 60%, then 40%, were dropped from the bill. The current bill now allows about 40% of the non-resident deer and elk tags to be applied for in a special December application period and drawn by January 15.

This early drawing has a $300 special drawing fee. That $300 fee could discourage many low-budget non-resident, do-it-yourself hunters, from applying. But well-heeled out-of-state hunters spending thousands of dollars using the services of a commercial outfitter can easily absorb another $300 application fee.

Hunting should not be just a rich man’s sport!

The $300 drawing fee will total several hundred thousand dollars annually and is earmarked to do wildlife habitat enhancement work. This is great.

As mentioned in previous columns, there are several wolf bills being considered by the Senate and House. House Bill 225 provides more FWP latitude to expand wolf hunting and trapping seasons in Montana.

House Bill 224, allows for the use of snares for trapping wolves. Snares are currently illegal in Montana for taking wolves. Snares appear to be a more effective trapping tool than foot hold traps. One of the disadvantages of snares is that snares tend to be a lethal device.

If a dog or non-target animal gets into a leg hold trap, it can usually be released with only a sore foot.

Both of these House Bills have passed the House and have been heard by the Senate Fish and Game Committee. But I could find no action or vote by the Senate committee.

Senate Bill 314 tends to direct FWP to substantially reduce overall wolf populations. Senate Bill 314 has passed the Senate Fish and Game Committee by a 7 to 4 vote and the full senate by a 30-20 vote.

Both votes were largely along party lines with Republicans being less pro-wolf.

History has shown that wolves were largely exterminated from the lower 48 States, not by hunting and trapping, but by poisoning. So, I suspect we will always have healthy wolf populations as long as we don’t use poison.

This next two weeks may be the best of our winter ice fishing. The recent cold spell has put a great ice cap on most lakes. But be cautious.

The warm early spring days make for a pleasant time to sit on the ice and wait for a bite.

Some ice fishermen have been known to take a snooze in the spring sun, me included.