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Bill preserves the right to hunt, fish and trap

by Chris Morgan
| February 28, 2023 12:00 AM

With all the misinformation being spread about House Bill 372, I thought I’d take a minute to clear the air and break it down for everyone to digest. HB372 is currently being called a trapping bill by multiple organizations who generally oppose consumptive use of all wildlife. Although its partially true, there’s far more to it than that.

The Montana Constitution under article 9 section 7 currently reads: “The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights.”

This bill would amend the above to say: “The citizens of Montana have the right to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest wild fish and wildlife, including the right to use current means and methods, which does not create or imply any right of public trespass on private property or diminish in any way vested private property rights. The state shall give preference to hunting, fishing, and trapping by citizens as the primary but not exclusive means of the state’s management of wild fish and wildlife populations for the benefit of all Montanans. This right is subject to the necessary management statutes enacted by the legislature and regulatory authority delegated by the legislature to a designated public agency or commission.”

So, why the change, you ask? Currently, the lack of use of current means and methods leaves the door open for animal rights activists to nickel and dime our opportunities away.

In 2015, HB212 passed through the Montana Legislature. Contrary to rumors on the streets, this bill effectively protected trapping under Article 2, section 3 of the Montana Constitution. Because of the lack of the “current means and methods” clause, a citizen’s initiative in 2016, I-177, was introduced to remove trapping on public lands. That initiative got to the ballot, and Montanans voted a resounding “no.” The only county in the state that voted a majority yes was Missoula County (51%).

By now you’re probably wondering, “But I thought you said this wasn’t a trapping bill.” Stick with me and we’ll dive a bit deeper.

The current wording game animals are defined by MCA 87-2-101 (4) as “deer, elk, moose, antelope, caribou, mountain sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, bear, and wild buffalo.”

What does that mean if you’re an upland bird hunter, a waterfowler, or a turkey hunter? It means your choice of hunting is not protected under the constitution. Furthermore, if some form of hunting allowed for the above mentioned “game animals” exists, other forms of hunting that same animal could be taken away without violating the constitution.

Love hunting with hounds for mountain lions? Not currently protected. What about archery hunting for elk? Nope, not protected. Could there be a citizen’s initiative brought forward to limit general deer and elk seasons to hunting only with weapons without scopes? You bet!

By protecting these means and methods in the Montana Constitution, it would require far more signatures from across Montana, not just in select locals.

As of today, 23 states have current means and methods of hunting, fishing and trapping protected in their constitution. This isn’t a new idea, and the wording of this bill follows very closely to the wording of the other states. Want your children and grandchildren’s right to hunt, fish, and trap to be forever preserved in the Montana Constitution? Contact your representatives today and ask them to support this bill. Let Montanans decide to preserve their rightful heritage.

Chris Morgan is Montana Trappers Association’s Vice President West. He lives in Helena.