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.