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Montana hunters can't fall for the governor's gaslighting

by Jock Conyngham and Adam Shaw
| January 22, 2023 12:00 AM

Just before the election Gov. Greg Gianforte hid, as usual, at an unadvertised event with only hand-selected loyalists in attendance at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where he painted a rosy picture for Montana’s hunters. He spoke there in half-truths, with nothing to back up his claims, and ignored or concealed the changes he himself signed into law just last session.

Hunters, don’t fall for this gaslighting. The governor may have forgotten the details of last session (to be generous), but we shouldn’t.

Don’t forget that the governor signed away tags to his wealthiest donors in some of the most sought-after hunting districts in Montana. Don’t forget that he signed a bill to overturn the will of the people in Montana by awarding preferential treatment in the draws for wealthy outfitted clients at the expense of the public hunter.

Don’t forget that while he’s now claiming to favor a public process for good decisions, he had no problem signing the above bill, shoehorned into an unrelated clean-up bill on the second to last day of the session, with exactly zero public comment. That change to favor the wealthy had been defeated twice in committee when public comment was permitted and received…but this fan of public process signed it anyway.

And finally, don’t forget that the governor touted his desire to improve public access to public lands, and to see "land conserved for wildlife habitat while also protecting ranchers on the landscape." Yet a few weeks later, his budget proposal notably cut all the money out of the voter-approved initiative to fund the best program we have to do all three of those things: Habitat Montana.

Actions speak louder than words, Governor.

It’s been more disappointing to watch the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provide a platform for the gaslighting, although it affirms what most public hunters in Montana have come to know: that the RMEF continues to evolve from public hunting advocates in Montana to nothing more than a land trust organization. Although this is very important work, we can no longer look to them to stand up for public land elk hunters.

RMEF’s silence during the last legislative session speaks volumes about their priorities. They did not show up to oppose the guaranteed tags for outfitters, the bulls for billionaires program, efforts to award transferable tags, attacks on conservation easements, or the theft of conservation dollars. They were silent and MIA on any bill that had to do with elk hunting or our hunting heritage in Montana.

The elk foundation's only public advocacy last session was to oppose the ill-fated bill to restrict their own ability to purchase and sell land, something that would have impacted their bottom line. Even more disappointing is their continued silence on the lawsuit filed by some of the governor’s largest donors that seeks to privatize elk management in Montana and slaughter a quarter of the state’s elk herd.

Every serious hunting organization in Montana has intervened on behalf of the public, but the elk foundation has been silent. Multiple calls to various foundation staff to ask about the organization’s actions (or inactions) to protect public hunting have all resulted in the same boilerplate response: “We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Please...

Hunters, don’t fall for this gaslighting or revisionist history. The soundbites coming from those trying to convince you of their support for hunters don’t match the substance of their work.

If you have the money to buy a ranch in a limited draw unit and then give enough to the governor’s campaigns to assure yourself annual bull tags as a non-resident, good for you. The rest of us, however, need to pay attention, particularly since one of our historic hunting advocacy organizations is MIA.

Strap in, hunters; we are in for a grueling legislative session.

Jock Conyngham live in Evaro. Adam Shaw lives in Missoula.

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