Gov vetoes bill easing Board of Outfitters requirements

Hunting guides and outfitters will have to continue recording details of clients' hunts after the defeat of a bill backed by Montana Outfitters and Guides.

On Monday, the last day before the bill would have become law without his signature, Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed Senate Bill 264. SB 264 would have reduced the information collected by the Montana Board of Outfitters to only that required to justify outfitter licensing. In other words, details regarding clients’ names, trip dates, and animal species, sex and location would be eliminated.

MOGA executive director Mac Minard said no one used the information so it was a waste of outfitters' time. Plus, Minard said, it was a costly burden on outfitters to supply those details, although much of the information has been required since the board's inception in 1987, and back then, outfitters made less money.

However, fishing outfitters don't voice as much of an objection to reporting requirements. Often the information can help demonstrate their experience and thus guarantee them permits on rivers where overcrowding demands limited guide trips.

In his veto statement issued Monday, Bullock reminded the Legislature that he had added a few reporting requirements in 2013 when he issued an amendatory veto for House Bill 274. HB 274 took a healthy swing at eliminating many reporting requirements and the requirement for a professional guide license. Bullock repeated some of the rational he used in 2013, saying it still applies today.

"(The reported data allows) the Board of Outfitters and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to 'provide high quality data, rather than anecdotal assumptions, when public policy issues arise regarding how both outfitted and non-outfitted hunting may interact to affect game management, season setting, access to public land, public hunting opportunities, and other resources,'" Bullock wrote. "If SB 264 were to become law. the MBO would be prohibited from collecting this information."

Minard is right - no one uses the information. But plenty would love to have the information if the Montana Board of Outfitters would make it available to the public.

When game populations in various hunting districts are over-objective or when the number of bulls decline as they have near Gardiner, FWP could see whether outfitters were contributing to the problem. But MOGA knows that could make outfitters vulnerable to regulation, and Minard has said MOGA tires of feeling like it's under attack. So the Board of Outfitters, dominated by MOGA members, won't release the information to FWP or anyone else unless it's paid for.

The one group of data that goes out to the public is a map of outfitted lands. It's supposed to be released annually but the frequency has dropped off in recent years. The most recent version caused a ruckus between public hunters and MOGA because it appeared to show a huge increase in the extent of outfitted lands. Minard said the data FWP used to create the map was bad because it had a lot of duplication.

While public hunters would like to see more of the Board of Outfitters data, their main problem is creating a better process for accessing it. If only the board sees it, then it doesn't serve to inform public policy, undermining the governor's rational. But such a process would probably have to be created through legislation, and the Legislature's approval of SB 264 suggests that such a bill would not get far.