We’re one week from the transmittal deadline—the official halfway point of the legislative session. At this point, the Capitol is a frenzy of activity with legislators trying to get last minute pieces of legislation drafted and introduced, committees sitting through marathon hearings and floors sessions that seem to go on for days.

The transmittal deadline is when all general bills (bills that don’t have an appropriation with them) must be transferred to the second house. For example, if a bill started in the Senate, it must be transmitted to the House by the transmittal deadline; otherwise the bill is dead. Since the first several weeks of the session were relatively quiet, a lot of bills have already passed the first house and been transmitted; however, there was still no shortage of bills to work on this week.

HB 505, Require notice to shared water conveyance facilities

Sponsored by Rep. Walt Sales (R) HD 69, Manhattan

This bill requires an individual applying for a water right or a change in appropriation right to provide notice to other water users on a shared conveyance facility, such as a canal, ditch, flume, pipeline, or other constructed waterway.  Were HB 505 to pass, applications for a permit or change in appropriation right would not be “correct and complete” until the applicant had submitted proof to DNRC that a written notice of the application was provided to each owner of an appropriation right that shares the point of diversion or means of conveyance.Farm Bureau supported this provision as we feel it simply adds transparency to the application process.  If a change or permit has the potential to adversely affect your neighbor’s appropriation, they should at the very least be aware of the application.

HB 497, Allowing additional elk tags to be harvested during a shoulder season
HJ 18, A joint resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives urging the FWP Commission to enhance its regulations for elk management and shoulder seasons

Sponsored by Rep. Wylie Galt (R), HD 30, Martinsdale

As coordinating legislation, HB 497 and HJ 18 seek to shed light on elk management issues in Montana.  Shoulder seasons were established in 2016 to provide an additional population management tool for hunting districts where elk herds are over the population objective.  Beginning in mid-August, shoulder seasons are antlerless elk hunts which stop during the general season and begin again in December and run through the beginning of February.

HB 497 proposes allowing additional elk tags for hunters during the shoulder season hunts.  MFBF supported this bill because the only way to control population growth is through the effective hunting of elk.  If landowners can take more elk off their private property and hunters can fill their freezers and potentially support neighbors or community food banks, it’s a win-win.  

HJ 18 is a resolution to the Fish and Wildlife Commission asking them to take a more critical look at elk management strategies in Montana. In parts of the state there are elk herds that are severely over objective and place a major burden on the natural resources farmers and ranchers are trying to manage and conserve.  HJ 18 asks the Commission to allow general elk licenses to be transferrable to antlerless elk licenses during the shoulder season, to update the 2005 elk management plan, allow hunters to purchase multiple tags, simplify regulations and create consistency across hunting districts and to work with landowners to support access to elk.

SJ 6, Requesting Montana’s congressional delegation introduce legislation to return management of grizzly bears to the state of Montana

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Cuffe (R), SD 1, Eureka

Montana Farm Bureau supported SJ6 because of the necessity to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The ESA was never designed to harbor species in perpetuity.  Rather, it was designed to focus on population and habitat recovery.  When those two goals are met, management of the species needs to be returned to the state governments.  Grizzly bears in Montana are ready for that transition.  We consistently see increased livestock depredation and human conflict.  Grizzly populations are climbing and bears are forced to seek food from often easy, but unnatural sources like garbage cans, corn fields and grain bins.

We know that grizzly bear recovery has been a success and we believe it’s time for the management of this animal to return to Montana.

SB 185, Prohibit the hunting and trapping of wolves in certain hunting districts

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips (D), SD 31, Bozeman

This bill proposes to prohibit the hunting and trapping of wolves in two Park County hunting districts that border Yellowstone National Park (YNP).  Montana Farm Bureau opposed this bill.  The sponsor and proponents allege that hunting wolves around YNP threatens the tourism industry in that part of the state and that this population of wolves is too ‘socially valuable’ to be hunted.

Farm Bureau has two primary issues with this bill.  First, we don’t support any additional buffer zones around YNP.  The two hunting districts in question in SB 185 represent approximately 600 square miles that would be closed to wolf hunting and trapping and effectively expand the borders of YNP.  We don’t believe that YNP should be able to extend their jurisdiction or wildlife management practices outside of their borders into Montana.

Secondly, this legislation is not based on any sound scientific or biological evidence that the hunting season is detrimental to wolves or any other wildlife in those hunting districts.  Our wildlife management decisions in Montana shouldn’t be solely influenced by social pressures based on the public’s perception of reality.