Friday, January 16, 2015

Bringing on the Heartache

We all lie awake the night before opening morning, unable to sleep because we’ve built up the anticipation of walking in the woods with a bow or rifle to the  level of childish glee that comes on Christmas eve when you know Santa is bringing you everything you asked for. The antithesis of that happens the night before The Montana Legislature is back in Helena; at least if you’re a hunter, angler or Montanan who sees the phrase “treasure state” and doesn’t immediately think of inflated profit margins. The Legislature over the last few sessions has been remarkably antagonistic to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as well as the access, conservation and wildlife statutes that protect Montana’s abundant big game hunting opportunities and scientific management of wildlife.
It’s already shaping up to be another session full of controversy and strife. But it’s a little different this year. There are about 40 fewer bills requested than 2013. Only 19 have been introduced. Out of that 19, several have already been making their way through the system. There’s a lot of small bills right now, things like Allow development of boat dock on Wild Horse Island, or Generally Revise Fishing Derby Law. There’s the bigger stuff as well, like increasing fines on people who harass game, shoot from the road or in general, act like slobs.  

Here's a few more that are in the que:

Revise Bison Laws: Representative Alan Redfield wants to require FWP to do a range analysis in any area that FWP would consider putting a herd of wild bison. Current statute already defines FWP’s obligation to determine carrying capacity for any place where they’d likely drop a buff or two, but this amendment to current law would also specify that FWP would have to use either the MSU Extension Service or the Federal  National Resources Conservation Service. But here’s the thing: I think that there is an unintended consequence that comes with this level of scrutiny that livestock producers who lease public lands might not like: You’re inviting the government to your allotment to count blades of grass. But, I suppose we should be relieved that we’re at least boiling the bison issue down to what it’s really about: Who eats what grass, and where.

Taking the “Public” out of Public Hunting: Sponsored by Senator Doug Kary, this bill would remove the prescription that landowners must allow public hunting as a condition of receiving sportsman’s license dollars to help mitigate problematic concentrations of critters. The issue is being promoted by the same outfitter who tried unsuccessfully for the last 3 sessions to set archery seasons by legislation rather than through the 100 year old process through the Fish & Wildlife Commission. The problem you see is this: Landowners who don’t allow any public hunting and take large amounts of money to either outfit or lease their ranches don’t want elk eating their hay. They want FWP to come in and either kill them, haze them , or buy the landowner a lot of very expensive fence. So, in essence, they want to have their cake and it too.
Boosting Block Management : Representative Kelly Flynn is an outfitter, landowner and sportsman. He’s also the chair of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. His bill to increase the amount of funding for block management is not without controversy. The Chairman’s bill would change the amount of funding allocated, or earmarked, for Block Management from 25% of Nonresident tag cost to 33%. On it’s surface, it sounds pretty good: Increased funding for Block Management is needed and this would help get us there. But the law of unintended consequences comes to play here as well. FWP is facing a significant shortfall of funds if their license revamp bill doesn’t pass later this session. While Representative Flynn is honestly working to find solutions, this bill has a long road ahead of it due to how it shifts funding, resulting in a situation where you’re robbing Peter in order to pay Paul. We are, however, extremely grateful that Representative Flynn has been working with sportsmen lobbyists to find common ground and a reasonable path forward. I believe that by the end of the session, we will see some good movement forward in maintaining Montana’s world-class wildlife and access programs, while respecting the rights of our ranching and farming neighbors.

We’re still in the early days though, and as the old line goes – there’s many a slip twixt a cup and a lip. As bills move forward, and issues boil over, we’ll be there to let everyone know that it’s time to suit up, and get in the fight.

Montana’s calling, let’s make sure she’s there forever.

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