Harold Johns

Sincere question: Why would the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association (MOGA) support a bill that seeks to cut their clientele by 15%?

Just last session the same group was trying to convince us that to keep guides and outfitters employed, they needed 60% of the nonresident deer and elk licenses, guaranteed.

Then they tried to get 40%. Then, with the help of Republicans, they slipped in preferential treatment in the draws on the second to the last day of the session, got it passed and signed into law by Governor Gianforte.

It wasn’t everything MOGA wanted - it wasn’t a guarantee - but it was a step in the right direction for them. And it was slimy politics at their worst.

Yet today, just two years later, HB 635 somehow has the full support of MOGA, even though it would remove as many as 15% of the licenses available to their clients.

So why on earth would MOGA support this?

There are two possible explanations.

Perhaps, MOGA fully intends on asking lawmakers for their own guaranteed tags, or shoving them in at the end of the session, like they’ve been known to do. With a Republican supermajority, this could be a piece of cake.

After all, if lawmakers can offer large absentee landowners who don’t even live here guarantees, how can they not look after family-run small business owners, their own constituents, just trying to make a living selling access to the public’s wildlife? It'd be an easy sell for MOGA.

Or, perhaps, there’s something even more nefarious at play.

HB 635 has been orchestrated by the same lobbyist that hand delivered the bulls-for-billionaires 454 agreements for the Wilks a few years ago. You see, among other clients like the Yellowstone Club, the individual lobbyist and the lobbying firm that represents the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association also represents the ultra-wealthy nonresident landowners like the Wilks. They pushed to sweeten the deal for the Bulls for Billionaires program, and it’s their signature on the Wilks’ access agreement contracts from 2021 and 2022. That’s public record.

At this point, the only thing that would make MOGA’s lobbyist’s clients happier than the 454 agreements (which require access for three public hunters) are elk tags that require no public access at all. And that’s what MOGA’s lobbyist would be delivering here, up to five per nonresident landowner.

It's time we pull the wool from our eyes and see this for what it really is: a way to satisfy rich nonresidents who are buying up Montana while their lobbyist tricks us into believing Montanans somehow benefit from this. We don’t.

It's a shame that some Montana hunters are being led to believe this is a good idea.

It's a shame that lawmakers in Helena are being strong-armed by MOGA and aren’t acting in the best interest of residents - their own constituents - but rather wealthy landowners who don't even live here.

And it's a shame that some Montana wildlife groups that have long stood up for the public trust and equitable management of wildlife are not only going along with this, but forcibly advocating for it. History will not look well on any groups who are supportive of this idea.

Montanans should pause and ask themselves what’s really happening here. Who really benefits? It’s yet another step in a direction towards privatization of Montana’s wildlife, a path that Montanans don’t want to be going down. It’s slimy politics at their worst. We’re fools if we don’t see it.

Harold Johns, Butte