Committee OK's shifting Habitat Montana toward access issues

9 p.m. UPDATE: HB 651 failed the second reading on the House floor by a vote of 47-53, so the bill is probably dead.

In spite of overwhelming opposition, Republicans have resurrected a bill to create a second public-land access specialist and spend sportsmen’s dollars buying land for access that might be poor habitat.

In a specially scheduled meeting Wednesday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Kerry White, R-Bozeman, brought House Bill 651 up for an unprecedented third round of executive action. Montana already has a public-land access specialist working in the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to improve public access to all public lands, but HB 651 would create another position under the state land board to increase access to state lands using Habitat Montana funds.

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Effort to divert wildlife habitat money fails

An effort to shunt wildlife habitat funds toward a redundant state-land position died Monday, leaving sportsmen relieved but still a bit frustrated.

In an 8-7 vote, the House Natural Resources Committee failed to pass House Bill 651 and then unanimously tabled it. HB 651 would have created a public-land-access advocate who would report to the state Land Board and who was allotted $100,000 a year out of the Habitat Montana program. The Habitat Montana account was created in 1987 to purchase conservation easements and fee title land that provided good wildlife habitat and thus hunting opportunity.

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MOGA bill would reduce permits for resident hunters

A group of outfitters is trying to wrest a few more game permits from the hands of Montana hunters.

On Tuesday, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association defended its bill, House Bill 568, to ensure that nonresident hunters always get 10 percent of the permits to hunt deer, elk, antelope, mountain lions and eventually black bears. Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, carried HB568, saying it would bring in additional money for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, because nonresident licenses cost more than those of residents. But White’s justification belies the fact that it takes permits away from residents.

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State Outfitters Board in shake-up over reporting requirements

Trouble is brewing in the outfitter world as the Montana Board of Outfitters awaits a replacement for long-time board member Robin Cunningham.

When it met Thursday, the seven-member Board of Outfitters was down to six after the Montana Senate refused on Feb. 24 to confirm Cunningham on a 32-18 party line vote. Cunningham was a year into his final three-year term as the fishing outfitters' lone representative. But he’d sat on the board since 2012 and served an earlier stint from 1994 to 2000.

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House supports resolution dissolving wilderness study areas

On Tuesday, the Montana House of Representatives gave initial approval to a bill that would ask Congress to dissolve seven wilderness study areas and open the lands to multiple uses, including logging, mining and a wide range of recreation.

Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, told the House that House Joint Resolution 9 is just asking Congress to do its job and decide the fate of seven wilderness study areas designated in the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977. The act directed the federal government to study the areas and then decide within five years whether to create wilderness or not. Until the decision was made, the areas were to be maintained in a wild condition, which has prompted wilderness opponents to call the areas “de-facto wilderness.”

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Wilderness Study Area bill sees overwhelming opposition

A bill encouraging the release of federal wilderness study areas in Montana was the last of three to be heard in a House committee, stifling the dozens of people who showed up to testify.

As the House Natural Resources committee spent an hour debating a bill giving authority over wildland firefighting to county commissioners, many public-land advocates became increasingly restless to testify in opposition to House Joint Resolution 9 sponsored by Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman. They had already waited through 45 minutes of testimony on a recreational-prospecting bill.

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Audience may be restricted for greenhouse-gas bill

A bill that would require the monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions produced in Montana may not get a fair hearing due to a capitol room swap.

On Wednesday, Sen. Mike Phillips, D- Bozeman, was to present Senate Bill 190 to the Senate Natural Resources committee. Recognizing that climate change is worsening and will cause hardship for many Montanans from farmers to fishing guides, the bill would direct the Board of Environmental Review to develop rules for reducing and capping greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

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Constitutional amendment protecting sportsmen could shackle FWP

Sportsmen’s groups came out in force Thursday to testify on a bill that would add more harvest-heritage language to the Montana Constitution, but they weren’t all on the same side.

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, presented Senate Bill 236 as a means to thwart the national “anti-hunting lobby” by creating a constitutional amendment that would further strengthen sections dealing with fish and wildlife harvest. Although some speakers were concerned about the future of hunting, the majority of the discussion showed the bill was the result of recent challenges to trapping.

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State study would reveal jobs benefit of outdoor recreation

While some Republicans continue to push for the transfer of public lands, one Montana bill is quietly making its way through the Legislature that could show how much local economies might suffer if public lands are lost.

House Joint Resolution 7, sponsored by Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, D-Missoula, asks that the Legislature conduct a study of the economic impacts of outdoor recreation in Montana. The study would take place during the legislative off-year.

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Lighted arrow nocks now legal for Montana bowhunters

Wresting the decision from the hands of legislators, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks commission has approved the use of lighted arrow nocks, although not without reservations.

On Friday, the FWP commission voted 3-1 to allow bowhunters to use lighted nocks during archery-only season, putting an end to the question that has cropped up repeatedly for the past five years.

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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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