I like so many Montana hunters have been blessed to enjoy a lifetime of world-class hunting and fishing. It’s why so many of us live here, and it speaks to the decades of work that Montanans have put into conserving and managing our public wildlife for the benefit of everyone.
But after this legislative session it is clear that Montana is on a different path, one that disregards science and places the ability for some to profit off of our wildlife as the highest priority. As we have seen in other states this will mean less opportunity for public hunters, and more exclusive access for those who can pay.
This last legislative session brought numerous wildlife bills that had little to do with fair chase hunting and everything to do with killing and commercialization of our public trust wildlife. Whether it was one of the many bills brought forward to reduce elk populations, declare war on predators or bills that allowed new means or seasons to kill wildlife, they were just wrong.
Already we have seen opinion pieces and statements erroneously linking hunting advocacy groups to the support of long held unacceptable practices approved this past session such as baiting, bounties, spotlighting, running bears with hounds and hunting elk in the dead of winter.
We hear often that deer, elk and predator numbers are too low or too high and that they need to be managed. I couldn’t agree more. But when we conjure up a problem where science shows no problem exists, or when those commercializing the public’s wildlife look primarily to their pocketbook, I have little patience. Long-term damage to the hunt and how hunters are viewed is at risk.
Lawmakers must consider the science when they propose and vote on such bills. Unfortunately, most are just responding to the financial aspects of the proposals and loud, partisan rhetoric that has become the norm in Montana’s capitol. State administrators and appointed Fish and Wildlife commissioners entrusted with the responsibility to manage our public trust wildlife need to stand up for those resources, and provide science-based information on bills that threaten public wildlife and the hunt.
The new laws are now on the books and we will not have a chance to change them until our legislature meets again. And clearly this is just the beginning of the drive to commercialize our wildlife through more bills.
We saw bills that died this session that will return, such as landowner elk licenses and getting rid of public access routes to public land. Already we’re seeing proposals to extend elk seasons in areas where hunter access is limited to paying clients, and kicking the can yet again on the years-long effort to better manage the Madison River fishery.
There are however other ways to change what many consider bad policy for wildlife and hunting. The new laws in many instances give the Commission a significant amount of discretion regarding means of take, harvest quotas, and season dates.
Talk with your commissioner, elected officials, friends and neighbors and let them know you want our public trust wildlife resources managed for all of us. Tell them actions that lead to further commercialization and decreased public support for hunting are not acceptable.
Hunters, make sure you vote for those that represent your values in the next legislature. Our sporting legacy and memories depend on it.
Tom Puchlerz of Stevensville is a retired wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. He serves as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.