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Elk Management Legislative Package Advances Past Transmittal

By Senator Jeff Welborn (R)

36th Dist. Which includes. Dillon-Big Sky-Butte-Ennis-Lima- Fairmont Hot Springs- Ruby & Big Hole Valleys.

Montana hunters, outfitters, and policymakers are celebrating a package of six bipartisan elk management and hunting-themed bills that have advanced through the Montana legislature’s general transmittal deadline.

The package of legislation was rolled out by the Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition and Montana Outfitters and Guides Association during the 'Elk Camp at the Capitol’ event in early January. The package has been described as the first legislative agreement to bring the outfitting, ranching, and hunting communities together since the 2007 legislature.

Representatives from the Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition, which I'm the lone legislative member, and Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, are behind a package of bills that will collectively improve wildlife management, reduce non-resident hunter pressure, improve incentives for landowners to enroll in state-sponsored access programs to help resolve problematic concentrations of wildlife, and create more trust between landowners, outfitters, and hunters.

The bills that advanced through the general transmittal deadline are sponsored by a group of bipartisan lawmakers and have the support of the Governor’s office.

During a press conference last week, Governor Gianforte recognized the collaborative efforts of the groups involved.

I agree with the Governor.

Diverse groups are coming together like never before around this common mission. What has been put together is a package of bills for sportsmen, outfitters and landowners. I say this often, but we have far more in common as Montanans than divides us. Common ground is always there if we are willing to look for it, and work to achieve it.

In other words What we can agree to around a kitchen table is a far better approach than settling our differences in the court room.

These bills represent small but important steps forward to rebuild trust between hunters, outfitters, and landowners, just as importantly, is to broaden the management toolbox for elk and other species of wildlife. It's important to note no particular organization gets everything they want with this kind of work, but that’s the nature of collaboration, and we think it sets us up to find more common ground in the future.

At the end of last legislative session, which turned out to be a rough one for all parties involved, due to divisive types of proposals, I asked all stakeholders, to come together and figure things out. These groups answered the challenge, and these policy agreements are now advancing through the legislature with minimal conflict thanks to the work our respective organizations put in, and thanks to lawmakers in both parties who are championing the results. This is a tremendous example of what can happen when diverse interests agree to sit down and find common ground.

A summary of individual bills is found below:

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. Prior to the legislative session there was broad agreement for this concept, which was ultimately endorsed by the Private Land/Public Wildlife council.

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.

Improve access to GIS data for hunters: HB2, the state’s primary 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. The position will ensure all landowner access agreements, the status of open/closed roads, navigable streams, and other pertinent access information is updated and available as cadastral information. The position will improve the FWP Hunt Planner tool and collaborate with GPS companies.

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. This legislation was amended in committee to provide FWP additional time to comply with this requirement.

Establish non-resident preference pool: HB 635, sponsored by Josh Kassmier (R-Fort Benton), would establish a non-resident landowner preference pool to encourage landowners to hunt their own deeded lands, incentivize them to enroll in state sponsored public access programs, and reduce hunting pressure on other publicly accessible lands. The bill would set aside up to 15% of B-10 combo licenses for non-resident landowners and family members to hunt deeded lands if they own 2,500 acres or more. The bill incentivizes public access in limited-entry districts where landowners must still apply for and receive a permit. Interested landowners will be able to purchase an additional bonus point for permit applications if they are enrolled in a state-sponsored access program.

Reform 454 access program: HB 596, sponsored by 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.

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