By Chelcie Cargill & Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation

Montana is facing budgetary shortfalls this session and the appropriations committees have no small task in balancing this budget. We’ve been in budget hearings all week listening to the deliberation regarding the Department of Livestock, Extension Service, and Montana State Ag Experiment Station Budgets.

During the 2015 session, the Department of Livestock was struggling financially. The Legislature returned them to a one-time-only budget. That meant the Department is now back in 2017 to go through their budget with a fine-tooth comb and justify every expenditure.  Budget hearings haven’t concluded yet, but we hope to see the Department returned to a base budget. This allows them to get back to work now that they are on track with less pressure to defend every need next time the Legislature is in town.

The Extension Service and Montana Ag Experiment Stations budget hearings concluded Feb. 2. Both hearings went well and there was extensive support for each. The Extension Service is in a challenging position: they’re facing a nearly 10 percent budget cut. The Extension Service is a vital component to agriculture, rural Montana and our youth. We know the budget is tight this year and cuts will likely have to happen; however, we’re working to restore some funding and minimize the cuts to Extension.

Senate Bill 157: Extend milk regulations to hoofed mammals

Sponsored by Sen. Jill Cohenour (D) SD 54 / East Helena. Heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Irrigation Committee Tuesday, Jan. 31.

Under current Montana law, milk is only defined as originating from a cow. The law defining dairies only mentions cow and goat dairies. We know there are producers in the state who are diversifying into sheep dairies, among others, mostly for cheese making.

Senate Bill 157 would extend Department of Livestock regulations to include milk produced by any hooved animal. This is needed for public health reasons to clarify that the Department of Livestock does have the authority to inspect and certify both the dairy and cheese making facilities and the products themselves, regardless of the species that produced the milk.

House Bill 305: Revising laws related to county bounties on predators

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Harris (R) HD 37 / Winnett. Heard in House Agriculture Committee Tuesday, Jan. 31

Montana law allows for the establishment of a local livestock petition if 51 percent of livestock owners in a county request their county commissioners to implement. This is a self-imposed tax that generates money that stays in the county for predator control. However, this money can only be used to pay for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services predator control efforts.

House Bill 305 would allow county commissioners the authority to use that money to set a bounty on predators killed within the county. It would allow more flexibility for local government to incentivize predator control at the county level. Contracting for federal government predator control is very expensive. While it is effective, counties are limited in how many times they can afford to bring in US FWS hunters and trappers.

This bill would provide flexibility to county commissioners to spread those dollars out and use more local resources for predator control. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports this measure.

Where are they now? Updates on bills previously discussed in this column.

House Bill 96: Revise free elk license/permit for landowner providing free public elk hunting.

Sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown (D) HD-63, Bozeman. Executive action taken in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee on Thursday, Feb. 2.

This bill would provide elk licenses to landowners who allow public hunting. A “sunset” clause was added, which means a specific date was set for the law to cease unless further action is taken to extend the law. This amendment was made with the intent to set a time to review the law’s use and effectiveness.  An amendment to restrict the landowner from profiting from the licenses and to prevent the landowner from also participating in the block management program was also added. These amendments were passed, and the bill will now move on to discussion and a vote on the House floor.

House Bill 204: Generally revise laws related to maintenance of fishing access sites   

Sponsored by Rep. Alan Redfield (R) HD 59, Livingston. Executive action taken in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee on Thursday, Feb. 2.

This bill would require all water “vessels” in Montana to purchase a fishing access site maintenance decal for $25.  $10 of the fee would go toward noxious weed control and $5 toward the prevention of aquatic invasive species, with the balance paying toward fishing access site management. The bill was tabled, but not killed. It may be brought off the table later if no other solution to fund weed and aquatic invasive species is found.

House Bill 243: Prohibit outfitting on state lands inaccessible to public access.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Jacobson (D) HD 21 / Great Falls. Executive action taken in House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee Thursday, Feb. 2.

This bill would have prohibited the Department of Natural Resources from issuing special use permits to outfitters on isolated state sections. It also would make it illegal for a landowner who surrounds such a section to allow an outfitter to cross their private property to access that state section, unless they allow the general public to cross their property too.

Montana Farm Bureau member policy strongly opposed this bill due to its blatant disregard for private property rights. The bill was tabled and indefinitely postponed, which means it is dead and will not continue on in the legislative process.

Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 587-3153 or Nicole is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana. 

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