The transmittal of the 2021 legislative session has passed, which means any bill that has not passed from one chamber to the other or did not include revenue or referendum language has been “killed”. Up to this point, we’ve testified on 46 bills, bills affecting wildlife and habitat programs, clean energy, environmental protections, and public lands. We have opposed 30 and supported 16. In the coming weeks, the fate of many of these bills will become clear, as committee hearings continue to take place and bills make their way to the Governor’s desk. Keep an eye out for future action alerts, including some asking you to call or email the Governor’s office.
Our legislative team has been working hard on defense this session, especially when it comes to wildlife, some calling it ‘the war on wildlife.’ Montanan’s have always taken pride in the fact that our state has many ethical fair chase game regulations for wildlife. With the introduction of greatly liberalized hunting, trapping,and other bills that move to commercialize wildlife, fair chase ethics will no longer rule the roost. Unexpected bills like SB 314, would allow night hunting of wolves, allowing baiting of wolf traps, and eliminate a take limit on number of wolves per license, grossly expanding wolf harvest in Montana with the goal of reducing numbers to 15 breeding pairs (200 wolves). Our team was expecting this bill and worked on it in the 2019 session; SB 267 allows private money to reimburse wolf trappers for their expenses. This bill, what we call “whiskey for trappers” failed by just one vote in 2019. Another unfortunate bill, HB 468, would allow hound hunting and chase seasons for black bears. With this bill it would black bears would be under threat of being hunted or chased by hounds all but one month of the year when they are not in hibernation. Finally, a bill threatening Sage-Grouse habitat, SB 284, would eliminate requirements that local county and city government opencut operations (i.e. gravel pits) provide compensatory mitigation for impacts to critical sage grouse breeding grounds, leks, when the gravel pit operation is outside of sage-grouse core areas but in general habitat.
It’s been a tough session for renewable energy and riparian habitat advocates in Montana as well. HB 475, would effectively eliminate the state’s renewable energy standard. The purpose of the renewable energy standard was to create incentives for the development of new renewable energy resources. The law already allows utilities to count any additional energy that results from upgrades toward their renewable energy obligations, and in 2021 the idea to include all hydropower resources as renewable will likely pass without it’s typical veto. Coming through the same chamber, HB 273 proposes to overturn Montana’s safeguards against the development of nuclear energy. If passed, the bill would repeal the public ability to vote on whether or not nuclear power can be permitted in our state.
With a similarly broad reach, but different targets, HB 599 and SB 358 introduced at the 11th hour and loaded with flaws, are radical rewrites of gravel pits and water quality standards. HB 599 proposes to completely cut the public out of the permitting process in nearly every instance, eliminates dozens of requirements for gravel pit operators, and completely excludes notification and involvement of neighboring landowners in most gravel pit permitting processes. SB 238 seeks to eliminate water quality standards for nutrient loads in state waters, eliminates schedules for managing variances and completing improvement tasks, and allows the Board of Environmental review to change standards over time.
Look at our bill tracker to see the energy and general habitat bills we are working on here.
Our organization and community know how much these issues affect birds and wildlife, so they are both priorities moving forward, in addition to bills directly affecting wildlife.
Finally, it surprises us that SB 281, a bill that defines electric bikes as non-motorized which will complicate their management on both our state and federal public lands, is passing quickly through the process. The sponsor of the bill stated that “this [bill] solves the problem of non-motorized use in the backcountry because electric power is silent. These bikes can’t damage the land, they’ll allow access in the backcountry where motorized use isn’t allowed… it’s the answer to those of us who have disabilities who can’t access the areas we want to access.” We know this isn’t true, and this change will increase human wildlife conflict, and create conflict between diverse trail use groups like horse riders, mountain bikers, and hikers.
Urgent Action! We need people to testify in opposition!
We are going to need a lot of help pushing back the next two months. You have already helped ‘kill’ a number of bills, like HB 241 that would have allowed public hunting on Tribal Reservation Lands, let’s keep it up!