Big Sky Roundup

Coalition touts advancement of bipartisan elk legislation

By: - March 8, 2023 4:53 pm

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay | Public domain).

The Montana Citizens’ Elk Management Coalition has touted elk management and hunting bills that have passed through their respective chambers in advance of the halftime deadline last week for general legislation.

In a news release Friday, the coalition said the bills are sponsored by a group of bipartisan lawmakers and have the support of the Governor’s Office.

The bills aim to improve wildlife management, reduce non-resident hunter pressure in part to reduce crowds, and improve incentives for landowners to enroll in state-sponsored access programs to help resolve problematic concentrations of wildlife, according to the news release.

“These bills represent small but important steps forward to rebuild trust between hunters, outfitters, and landowners, and just as importantly, to broaden the management toolbox for elk and other species of wildlife,” said Kathy Hadley of the Montana Citizens’ Elk Management Coalition in a statement. 

The coalition said the package of bills “has been described as the first legislative agreement to bring the outfitting and hunting communities together since the 2007 legislature.”

The coalition described the following legislation, which moved through one chamber:

Improve enrollment in Block Management: SB 58, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, will increase the annual Block Management payment cap for enrollees to $50,000. The bill passed 45-3 in the Senate.

Limit non-resident deer licenses to reduce hunter pressure: SB 281, sponsored by Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, would reduce the sale of nonresident deer B tags to alleviate crowding on accessible lands. The bill would instruct FWP to sell no more than two B8 antlerless deer licenses to non-residents who draw a big game combination license or nonresident deer combination license, and only allow one antlerless license to be held by other NR hunters. It passed the Senate 49-1.

Improve hunter education: HB 243, sponsored by Rep. Marylin Marler, D-Missoula, would make an in-person field day with firearm safety training a requirement of FWP’s online hunter safety and education course. It passed the House 87-11.

Establish non-resident preference pool: HB 635, sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, would establish a non-resident landowner preference pool to encourage landowners to hunt their own deeded lands, provide incentives for them to enroll in state-sponsored public access programs, and reduce hunting pressure on other publicly accessible lands. It passed 56-42 in the House.

Reform 454 access program: HB 596, sponsored by Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, would modify the 454 program to make it a more effective and equitable tool for managing problematic concentrations of elk on private lands. The bill would create a new prescription for a “like” opportunity between the first tag holder and the first hunter selected for the 454 agreements. This bill would also give the commission more authority to negotiate and prioritize applications that offer additional public elk hunting, above the minimum 3:1 ratio. It passed 77-22.

The coalition also endorsed funding allocations made in House Bill 2. The news release said the big budget bill, sponsored by Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, “sets aside funding for a new FWP employee to improve the acquisition and distribution of public access data for use by the state and GPS-based mapping companies.”

Mac Minard, with the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, said those who worked on the policies looked for areas of consensus with encouragement from legislators and the Governor’s Office.

“This is a tremendous example of what can happen when diverse interests agree to sit down and find areas of common ground,” Minard said in a statement.

Gov. Greg Gianforte recognized the collaborative efforts among diverse groups as well, the news release said, citing his comments from a recent press conference.

“I say this often, but we have far more in common as Montanans than divides us,” Gianforte said in a statement in the news release. “Common ground is always there if we are willing to look for it and work to achieve it.”

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