On March 3rd, the 68th legislature went into a nearly week-long recess after both the House and Senate spent two days conducting final committee and floor votes. During that time, we were glued to the Capitol video feed waiting for debates on key issues that affect predators, stream access, wildlife habitat funding, and clean water. Through the flurry of legislation, we advocated against several bad bills that were fortunately defeated.
Bad Wildlife Bills Defeated
Three bills, HB627, HB628, and HB630, would have affected predator harvest and they all failed with close bi-partisan votes. Their failure to pass is a good indicator that the 2023 session may end up changing few state wildlife harvest laws for black bears and wolves. The bills sought to increase the harvest opportunity for wolves and black bears by legislating that: 1) Wolf trapping season must be from the Monday after Thanksgiving until March 15th; 2) Fish & Wildlife Commission must allow the use of snares for trapping wolves in occupied grizzly bear habitat outside “of existing grizzly bear recovery zones that have been delineated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and existing lynx protection zones that have been delineated by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks;” and 3) Hunting of black bears with hounds must be allowed outside of existing grizzly bear recovery zones that have been delineated by USFWS.
Bad Recreation Bills Die
In other good news, two bills that would have allowed electric bikes or e-bikes anywhere bicycles are permitted, regardless of local community planning, also failed on very close floor votes. HB261 and SB342 became especially problematic because of the impact to natural surface trail use regulations and difficulties enforcing registrations for e-bike classes, and regulations on cross-jurisdictional trails, such as United States Forest Service Lands. One negative result of those bills could have been that some trails currently open to bicycles but not e-bikes would be closed to all forms of bicycle travel. How we access and utilize our public lands impacts our communities, natural resources, and wildlife species.
Stream Access Threat Thwarted
The way Montanans access their public lands was also brought into question with the introduction of SB 497. This bill would have amended Montana’s treasured stream access law, infringing on Montanans’ rights to access streams and rivers for fishing, hunting, floating, and other outdoor recreation. SB497 failed to pass out of committee, but could have allowed individual property owners and counties or other government landowners to block citizens’ access to our waters.
Looking Forward: Post-Transmittal
With these victories for wildlife behind us, we are ready to take on the second half of the session, with many fewer bills to track. However, constitutional referendums have us on the edge of our seats. In particular we have our eyes on HB 372, the legislature’s 4th attempt to amend hunting, fishing, and trapping directly within the Montana Constitution. Contrary to the proposal, trapping should not be the primary way we manage Montana’s fish and wildlife. Protecting habitat and its values should be the core focus of our management efforts.
As we get back to work, we need your continued help and dedicated civic engagement!