Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Scorcher in January

I made a huge mistake today. I checked the Montana Legislature website to see what bills were coming. Sometimes I think ignorance is bliss. Then I remember what happened last year when the Legislature unleashed war on Montana’s wildlife, hunters and anglers. Over 100 bills that dealt directly with wildlife issues were introduced. Most of them were detrimental to you and I, and our opportunity to hunt and fish. Bills related to wildlife outnumbered every other category including education, taxation and health care. 

Pursued by folks with personal agendas, we fought back bills that would have erased our ability to participate in wildlife management decisions in favor of putting economics ahead of science and opportunity, bills that would have made delisting of wolves impossible, even under the Simpson/Tester delisting rider, bills that would have stripped funding for access programs, and bills that would have eliminated the authority of the FWP Commission to make reasonable restrictions on that opportunity after a democratic and public process.

This coming legislative session looks to be no different. Already there are bills stacked up to monkey with wolf management, to eliminate FWP’s ability to manage wildlife, never allow bison to be transplanted anywhere and the biggie: The joint interim Environmental Quality Council is pushing forward a bill to strip Parks out of FWP.

Now, I’m not opposed to this idea, but the devil is in the details. Funding sources for Parks have become intertwined with the Wildlife side. The Land and Water Conservation Fund monies are perhaps the most important. Fishjing Access Sites, Wildlife Management Areas and other FWP funded programs are tied to LWCF monies. It would be a shame to lose that funding source for yet another paved over, wifi friendly state park where you sit in an RV and watch Netflix while some tourons sit around their fake campfire, eating pre-made s’mores.

I look at places like the Marias River WMA, Fish Creek and the Marshall Block and thank FWP everyday for having the vision and foresight to procure those properties. Wild country is in short supply. In order to grow more elk, we need more wild country. It’s pretty danged simple, no? 

Out of the bills already lined up for whack-a-mole, only a few seem to have redeeming qualities. Friend of the Pulpit, Kendall Van Dyk is making another attempt at his Hunters for the Hungry Bill. This bill would set up a donation on your license so that hunters not only could donate their kill to a local food bank, but we could also gather the funds necessary to process that meat. The bill died last year after clearing the Senate. One prominent legislator said that “I don’t think the state should be in the business of charity.” That kind of short-sighted thinking doesn't serve Montanans at all.

The 63rd Montana Legislature is going to be worse than the 62nd. I’ve had some of the folks who tried to eliminate the FWP Commision’s authority already tell me that. Based off of the bill draft requests, we’ll be fighting the same fights when it comes to Limited Entry Permits for Archery hunters in the Breaks (the third session in a row that outfitters and anti-access advocates have tried to privatize wildlife), rumors of a new Ditch Bill are circulating, and it’s also looking like a Ranching for Wildlife Bill (privatization of wildlife) will be moving forward.

Montanan’s made a commitment to wildlife over 100 years ago. That commitment was to habitat, conservation, and abundant wildlife. The net result is some of the longest seasons for big game in the lower 48. That success is being eyed greedily by those who profit ahead of all else.

It’s time to re-up with the groups who stand up for the average hunter and angler. Hellgate Hunters and Anglers is always active in the legislature, but we rely on groups like the Montana Wildlife Federation who fields two lobbyists and an army of dedicated public land hunters, to keep us informed. Without their work, we won’t have the real time updates that we’re always looking for. A membership is $35. That’s less than a dozen arrows, or a box of 300 WSM. Pony up folks. Let’s keep our wildlife and our opportunity abundant. 


  1. Thanks for the update, Ben. As we head to the field this fall and enjoy the bounty of wild lands, diverse game, and abundant opportunity we share as hunters and anglers in Montana, we should take the time to renew our responsibility to protect and conserve our resources for future seasons and generations to come. Beyond the ethics of fair chase and conservation we also have a responsibility to participate in the public process to ensure we continue in the tradition of science-based management of public wildlife and public access for hunting and fishing in Montana. The best way to prevent legislation detrimental to these values is to send quality representation to Helena. We have to speak up and vote.

    Casey Hackathorn

  2. Good job Ben. Yes it's true, the 2013 Montana Legislative session shows all the signs of being just as or more contentious as 2011. One of the first items hunters and anglers can do is to join one of the reputable fish and wildlife groups. One of those groups, the Montana Wildlife Federation has a long, successful history (75+ years) of doing what's right for the Montana hunters and anglers regarding habitat and everything else that fish and wildlife need to be a sustainable public resource. There are other groups which have great sounding names that have come onto the scene here in Montana recently that don't have the best interests of the Montana hunter/angler, they are the ones who want to privatize and commercialize our public resources of fish and wildlife, so beware! What we have here in Montana is a gift, we have a buffet feast before us, savor, treasure and fight like the dickens to save it.