Should hunting, fishing be a constitutional right for Montanans?

The Senate Fish and Game Committee will hear the bill on Thursday. (Missoula Current)

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – A bill in the Montana Legislature would ask voters to decide whether the Montana Constitution should establish hunting, fishing and trapping as “a right essential to pursuing life’s basic necessities.”

Senate Bill 236 would also add that fish and wildlife management and conservation efforts would have to be done for scientific reasons, or if they protect people or property from threats or harm associated with fish or wildlife.

“We just don’t want to get into managing because it looks good or feels good,” said Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who’s carrying the bill. “We want to manage based on what’s actually best for wildlife resource and conservation management practices.”

Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls

Also under the bill, whenever possible, public hunting would be given priority to help control fish and wildlife populations.

“We’re safeguarding the right to hunt, fish and trap while simultaneously allowing statutes that govern the management of wildlife for sustainability of the resource,” Fielder said.

Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, said the amendment would limit “the ability for us as stewards of the wildlife heritage to manage it according to the needs of our state.”

She added Montana already protects the heritage of hunting.

“We have the ability to do this already in our state constitution,” Cohenour said. “We don’t need to add it as a paramount right that now can never be changed.”

Because this would amend the Montana Constitution, a two-thirds majority is required from the entire Legislature to put the measure on the ballot in November of 2018.

The Senate Fish and Game Committee will hear the bill Thursday afternoon.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.