Montana Senate Bill 143

The Montana state legislature is a peculiar, somewhat anachronistic critter.  Meeting for 90 days every other year, our state still has true citizen legislators.  This often means they lack what might be called expertise in certain subjects, but it also means that they are generally very accessible and open to public feedback.

Montana being Montana, outdoor and especially hunting related legislation garners much interest.  SB 143 is an example of something which gathered momentum very quickly, and I was sad to miss out on the first committee hearing yesterday afternoon (currently being stuck at home due to one of my clients testing positive for COVID).  It is a terrible piece of legislation, that would follow the example of several other western states (New Mexico being the clearest example) by setting aside a significant pool of elk and deer tags for those non-residents who contract with a guide.  As I will detail below, I think this issue goes well beyond simple questions of outfitter preference, and for that reason is very timely.  Currently we’re in wait and see mode, as to whether the bill will make it out of committee, and if so, how the senate might vote.  You can track this, and access contact info for the committee folks here; and read the bill at the bottom of this page.

Dear members of the Fish and Game committee:

I am writing to object to much of Senate Bill 143.  As a Montana hunter and resident I believe both that favoring outfitters with draw allocations is not desirable nor in the states interest, and that doing so would move Montana hunting in an unhealthy and ultimately unsustainable direction.

As you are no doubt aware hunting in the western US is in the midst of something of a paradoxical crisis.  Nationally, the number of hunters has been declining for some time, with the eldest two generations currently representing an outsized percentage of hunters.  This begs the question of a steep decline in hunting and conservation revenue, due to how strongly many Fish and Game departments rely on tag sales, and how far Pittman-Robertson revenue is embedded nationally.  At the same time, hunting demand in western states such as Montana has increased, or at the very least deepened, with the interests of what we might call core hunters significantly accelerating demand for limited-entry hunts.  In Montana it seems that most if not all non-resident deer and elk hunting will be in that category soon, if not already.

Montana residents have consistently and for a long time favored opportunity in their game management.  Opportunity in the specific sense of long seasons and modest if any restrictions aside from season itself.  Non-resident hunters lack the same consistency of voice, but anecdotally it seems they value the same thing in their visits to Montana.  Being able to hunt where, when, and largely as they wish promotes the independence of spirit out of which our collective nostalgia for hunting and the outdoor springs, and is congruent with the egalitarian spirit of the North American model of wildlife conservation.

The cliff upon which hunting currently sits has to do with demand, and demand for a certain kind of hunting experience.    Making those ways of hunting, hunting in big wild landscapes, hunting for animals in close to their ancient context, more difficult to access will do damage to hunting that will not be felt for decades.  For aspirant hunters concerned with context and experience, diminished opportunity is an enormous barrier to entry.  Simply put, being able to both purchase expertise via an outfitter, as well as purchase the opportunity itself via increased draw odds creates a both economic and logistical barrier that will not serve hunting well into the future.


Dave Chenault

Helena, MT

Click to access SB0143.pdf


4 responses to “Montana Senate Bill 143”

  1. Montana voters overwhelming backed an initiative to eliminate guaranteed outfitter licenses for many of the reasons you listed. Just an attempt to override and ignore what the voters said loud and clear. I sent my comments in last week. Hopefully this dies a quick death.

  2. Well written letter.

    I watched the committee hearing the other day and it is clear that the skids are greased. The fact of the matter is that Montana legislators do not care about the opinion of or affect to nonresidents. It was oft-repeated that “this does nothing negative to the resident hunter.” In fact, I think the flood of NR letters and emails actually watered down the letters and emails of residents in opposition.

    I hope to comment in person if this makes it to the House, and when I do, I will state how this bill hurts residents:

    -Residents who have NR friends and family who come out to hunt with them but don’t pay someone to take them hunting will have a much more difficult time doing that as the pool of licenses for which equal opportunity in the drawing process exists has shrunk and demand for that pool increases.

    -Access to private land elk is ever-decreasing, and this does nothing to help that, and likely will exacerbate it.

    -It increases the cap of NR B11 licenses by 2,000, which of course will affect the resource that Resident hunters pursue.

    -Most important to this resident. The wildlife of Montana are managed in trust for Montanans. Montanans have already stated that they do not believe guaranteeing portions of the resource to an industry is the method we would like our wildlife allocated by. This reverses our will.

    It is obvious that they will amend this bill down from the absurd 60% initially proposed, and act as if this is a compromise. In my opinion there should be no compromise with any proposal that robs the public trust of equal opportunity in the drawing process. Our senators and representatives need to realize that this will seem like a big damn waste of time if in two years, the residents of Montana have to once again explicitly state our will via citizens initiative.

    1. I appreciate the info. Prior to being told I had to quarantine this week I was weighing going in person (with my kids in tow; necessary on a Tuesday afternoon) as past experience suggests that committees listen much better when you are there yourself. Sounds like I will get another chance one way or another.

  3. Thanks for bringing attention to that bill Dave. I was also encouraged that MTPR had a few minutes on it this morning too, even if they didn’t have time to give it the full coverage it needs.

    Bills like this (and SB115) highlight the fallacy of the oft-repeated mantra, especially by FWP and conservation organizations, of using “the best available science” at the exclusion of all other considerations. As if the thorniest issues facing hunting, public land management, and wildlife are scientific in nature. Instead what’s most helpful is a clearly articulated set of values, like when you refer to the “spirit of the North American model of wildlife conservation”. Of course we need expertise around carrying capacity, harvest rates based on species reproduction and habitat availability, etc. But bills like these, and issues around predators, wildlife on private land, how we define “access”, and many others, seem to be value judgments. And this is coming from and over-educated scientist with a fancy degree :)

    That’s why I especially like when FWP weighs in, not necessarily with judgment on a particular value, but with broad perspective that highlights how a certain bill reflects certain values to the exclusion of others. I understand why they’re reluctant to wade into those discussions, but I do think it’s necessary.

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