For the third time since restrictions on archery elk permits were enacted in northeastern Montana in 2008, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature to try to reverse the controversial action of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 151, Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, told the Senate Fish and Game Committee during a hearing on Tuesday that he sees the legislation as a way to move landowner, sportsmen and outfitter relations forward on a “very sticky issue.”
Peterson and other supporters of the bill — which included farm and ranch groups, outfitters and guides and the Chamber of Commerce — also cited the bill as a way to increase revenue for communities in rural areas, boost hunter opportunity and reduce elk populations where they are above FWP’s management objectives.
Opponents to the bill — sportsmen’s groups as well as FWP — see the bill as one more attempt to overturn what was a very deliberative process involving many meetings and comments by a variety of individuals.
“This bill continues to put hunters against landowners,” said Helena hunter Ben Lamb. “I think we’re all tired of this.”
The bill would keep the commission from reducing the number of elk archery permits in 30 hunting districts unless the elk population in a district drops below 85 percent of FWP’s objective.
Ken McDonald, wildlife bureau chief for FWP, said the reason that archery permits were limited in the 2008 season was because of overcrowding as well as a fairness issue between rifle hunters, whose numbers are more rigorously limited, and archery hunters.
“This wasn’t about trying to force access” onto private land,” he said. “It was about equality and hunting quality.”
Chuck Denowh, whose group United Property Owners of Montana was created over the flap on the issue, said passage of the bill would correct a wrong created by the FWP Commission.
“It was always about punishing landowners who weren’t providing enough public access,” he said. “What it’s all about is coercion.”
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