For the hook and bullet community in Western Montana, the Flathead Reservation is a source of incredible opportunity. From backpacking and skiing in the Mission Range to pursuing waterfowl, pheasants and a wide array of fish species on the valley floor, outdoorsmen and women in our part of the state are privileged to have access to reservation lands, their abundant wildlife habitat and the adventures they provide. Nobody who has hunted birds or jigged for perch with the Mission Mountains in the background forgets that experience.
We owe that privilege to the hospitality of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who manage and own the lands, fish and wildlife that make the Flathead Reservation the peerless place that it is. For nearly thirty years, the CSKT has allowed non-tribal members to hunt and fish on the reservation through the Montana-CSKT Fishing and Bird Hunting Agreement, and the state has recognized their sovereignty and authority to manage their lands and the fish and wildlife within. That long standing relationship is now under attack in the Legislature, and hunters and anglers will suffer if a few landowners have their way.
House Bill 241, introduced by Rep. Joe Read of Ronan, would give non-tribal members who own inholdings on Montana reservations the ability to hunt big game on their property, thereby bypassing the decades of collaborative management and mutual respect between the State of Montana and the CSKT. Should this bill pass, it will inevitably provoke the end of the Montana CSKT Fishing and Bird Hunting Agreement as well as litigation by the CSKT, who will, justifiably, fight for their right to manage wildlife within the boundaries of the reservation.
This bill, brought forward for the benefit of a few non-tribal landowners on the reservation, threatens the opportunities of the hunters and anglers who hunt birds and fish on CSKT lands each year. Our organizations oppose this bill, and we ask the Legislature to affirm the management authority of the CSKT and the proven success of the Agreement by rejecting HB 241.
It’s worth noting that this bill would affect all reservations in the state of Montana, from the Flathead Reservation to the Crow, Blackfeet and Fort Peck reservations. We would likely see lawsuits resulting from this assault on tribal sovereignty from those tribes as well, with corresponding closures for recreation. Those bringing this bill forward are apparently ignorant of the extent to which this would profoundly injure the relationships between the outdoor community and those tribes as well as the loss of access and opportunity that would result for hunters and anglers across Montana.
Montanans are not wanting for hunting and angling opportunity in our state—we are lucky to live in one of the most opportunity-rich places in North America. Hunters who live on the Flathead Reservation do not have to travel far in any direction to find elk and deer populations on Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State of Montana and private lands outside of the reservation. Those landowners who are attempting to legislate against the sovereignty of the CSKT should remember that they, and we, are lucky to be able to live and recreate in one of the most beautiful places in Montana. Let’s not push it.
Please join Hellgate Hunters & Anglers, the Montana Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever and the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in opposing this legislation. If you hunt birds or fish on the Flathead Reservation, now is the time to speak up or risk having your opportunities threatened. Contact your legislators on the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee before the bill’s hearing on Tuesday, February 9, and let them know that you oppose this misguided legislation.
Walker Conyngham is the president of Hellgate Hunters & Anglers. Tom Puchlerz is the president of the Montana Wildlife Federation board. John Sullivan is the board chair of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Chad Harvey is the regional representative for Pheasants Forever.