Montana enjoys the longest hunting and trapping seasons in the West, providing incredible experiences for residents and visitors from around the world. Our coldwater and warmwater fisheries also provide world-class angling opportunities.
It should be no surprise that a majority of Montanans hunt, fish, and trap – one of the highest participation rates in the country. And all Montanans know how important hunting, fishing, and trapping are to our outdoor economy.
Montana’s Constitution protects hunting, fishing, and trapping when it clearly states “the opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights.”
As a result of clear public support and existing constitutional language, political efforts to curtail hunting, fishing, and trapping have failed repeatedly and overwhelmingly.
Unfortunately, some in the Montana Legislature are trying to use this issue as a political talking point, even as they really walk away from our hunting, trapping, and fishing heritage.
When the cameras were rolling, legislators say they are for hunters, anglers and trappers. But they have voted to give away limited entry permits for deer, elk and pronghorn and proposed to put control of the Habitat Montana program in the hands of politically-elected officials. Bills are also moving forward to write special-interest hunting seasons into statute, dismantle the department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and limit the ability for biologists to scientifically manage deer.
What's the one bone these politicians are throwing to hunters, anglers and trappers? An unnecessary referendum that aims to add hunting, fishing and trapping into the Constitution -- again.
Changing the Montana Constitution is a big deal that demands careful consideration. Any additional language on hunting, trapping, and fishing would need to be written so that it does not do more harm than good. The wrong language could undercut hunting and angling opportunity, cause havoc with FWP’s ability to manage wildlife, and tie the hands of private landowners.
That's right -– the very measure meant to protect our hunting, trapping and fishing heritage could destroy it. An amendment could make it impossible for FWP to treat resident and non-resident hunters differently when it comes to pricing hunting licenses. It could be used to block public land grazing and water rights, and even interfere with landowners’ ability to manage their own land.
The current proposal being advanced in the Legislature, SB 236, was written at the last minute and has raised concerns from both landowners and sportsmen. Does it makes sense to ask Montana voters to consider such an important change on such short notice?
Nobody knows if the language in SB 236 would really protect the interests of hunters, trappers, landowners, and wildlife managers. Legal ambiguity means everything would end up in court. That includes lawsuits from anti-hunters and anti-trappers, who will pull out all the stops to use the amendment against us.
Montanans cherish our hunting, trapping, and fishing traditions. We stand together to maintain our heritage, and that was illustrated last year when a proposed ban on public land trapping was soundly defeated. Let's not risk our outdoor heritage with a hastily crafted constitutional referendum that could do far more damage than good.
-- Bill Geer, Montana Wildlife Federation
-- John Sullivan, Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
-- Marlon Clapham, Montana Bowhunters Association
-- Harold Johns, Butte, Skyline Sportsmen Association