Bill discouraging locked gates on public roads faces uphill struggle

House Bill 295 would stop the trend of landowners gating roads to public land, but supporters are worried it won’t get a fair shot at becoming law.

HB 295, sponsored by Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, would allow a county to consider a locked gate across a county road to be an encroachment on county property or easements. The county could fine the owner up to $500 a day until the gate is removed instead of the current $10 a day. Plus, if cars can’t get through, the road supervisor would have the authority to remove the gate immediately.

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Bill would remove outfitter exclusivity on state lands

A state legislator wants public hunters to have the same access as outfitters to isolated state-trust lands, but no one knows how much land that actually would affect.

On Thursday, Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, used a familiar justification for his bill, House Bill 243, which would prevent hunting outfitters from having sole access to landlocked parcels of state-trust land.

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Invasive mussel prevention to cost an additional $10 million

Legislators learned Monday that a new aquatic invasive species program would cost at least $10.5 million every two years for the foreseeable future.

Members of Montana’s Mussel Response Team told the Joint Long Range Planning and Natural Resources and Transportation Committee that four parts of the aquatic invasive species program would have to be amped up to limit invasive mussels to the four sites where they’ve been found.

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USFWS considers protection for Rocky Mountain fisher

On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was considering the Northern Rocky Mountain fisher for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement opens a 30-day public comment period.

A petition submitted by six environmental groups, including the Friends of the Bitterroot, the Friends of the Clearwater and the Friends of the Wild Swan, prompted the action. The petition says fishers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are threatened by loss or curtailment of habitat or range, disease and predation, overutilization via incidental and direct trapping, and various other factors.

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BLM report: Improve antiquated coal fees and oversight

The Bureau of Land Management should not only require a better return on coal leases for U.S. taxpayers but also work harder to balance coal production against the growing threat of climate change, according to a new Department of the Interior report.

On Wednesday, the BLM released an exhaustive report on the federal coal program, which applies to the 570 million acres of coal mineral estate owned by the federal government. In short, it calls for both government and industry to use better business practices, both financial and technical, than those that were available or allowed more than 30 years ago.

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Bill: More elk tags for hunter-friendly landowners

A bill proposed by the Private Land Public Wildlife council would up the incentive for landowners to allow members of the public to hunt on their land.

With landowners pressuring Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to control elk populations that are over FWP objectives, the agency needs to find ways to open up more access to private land that is normally closed to public hunting. So House Bill 96 would increase the proportion of elk tags available for willing landowners from 20 percent to 25 percent.

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NorthWestern Energy opposes net-metering cap increase

The Legislature should allow government entities to produce five times more solar energy for credit, according to one Republican’s bill.

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, got a little excited as he tried to overcome NorthWestern Energy arguments against House Bill 34, which would increase the net-metering cap to 250 kilowatts from 50 kW for solar projects by government entities such as schools or prisons.

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Digital hunting tags raise privacy questions

Montana's tribes may regain their licenses to hunt bison but Montana's hunters may have to solve privacy problems before gaining the right to have digital hunting tags.

In the Senate Fish and Wildlife Committee, Sen. Jennifer Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, learned her bill promoting digital game tags already faced an amendment because of privacy concerns.

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Early FWP bills address block management, fishing access funding

As the 65th Montana Legislature convenes on Monday, legislators have already proposed least two bills that would affect Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ shoestring budget.

After hours of hearings and counter proposals in 2015, the Legislature approved most of FWP’s proposed budget that had been developed by a working group of hunters, fishermen and outfitters. One of the major changes was having the budget cover four years, unlike previous versions that were mapped out over 10 years.

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Claims of Montana's deer-collision risk may be overstated

An insurance company claims that drivers are at higher risk of hitting a deer in Montana than in other states. But Montana might not deserve the ranking.

State Farm Insurance released its annual calculation that seems to show that Montana ranks second in the nation as far as a driver's likelihood of hitting a deer, elk or moose. Montanans are supposed to have a 1-in-58 chance of hitting a deer. West Virginia takes top honors with a 1-in-41 chance, and Pennsylvania comes in third.

But since the company’s purpose is to sell car insurance, a smart consumer might give those calculations another look. Data can show certain trends that may not be so when put in the proper context.

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