Plenty of hunting, fishing issues before Legislature

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While the winter of 2015 will provide some excellent ice fishing, trapping and some predator-hunting opportunities, wise hunters and anglers will pay a lot of attention to what is happening in Helena during the new legislative session.†

I can assure you every hunter and angler in Montana will be affected by what happens in Helena during the next three months.

There are over 110 pieces of legislation concerning hunting and fishing that have been proposed or drafted.†

Some of these, such as House Bill 82, are very specific. HB 82 would authorize the construction of a state boat dock on Wild Horse Island. That type of bill makes me wonder if the legislative process is trying to micro-manage state agencies. Do we really need 50 state senators and 100 state representatives analyzing and deciding whether to build a simple boat dock?

Other bills, such as HB 140, are 26 pages long. This bill purposes to raise hunting and fishing licenses. This will likely be the most cussed and discussed bill involving fish and game matters.†

Other proposed bills cover such far-ranging conservation topics as authorizing electronic signatures for licenses, prohibiting sage grouse hunting, charging every hunter $25 for hunting on block management lands, reporting wolf-dog hybrids, exempting hunters from paying motel-room bed taxes, managing of bison, allowing crossbows during archery hunting seasons and clarifying laws for tagging big game animals. Any of these, if approved, would influence how we fish and hunt.

I was especially interested to see the bill proposing allowing crossbows during archery season.†

Last summer, I wrote about how crossbow hunting was sweeping across the archery hunting world. A few years ago only a handful of states permitted the use of crossbows during archery season. Now the majority of states allow the use of crossbows.†

That column generated several letters to the editor chastising me. But I was only the messenger reporting on a national hunting trend. After being accused of advocating for crossbows, I wrote a second column advocating for the use of crossbows because they allow youths, women, older men and handicapped folks to better participate in archery hunting.†

If hunting is to continue as a Montana tradition, we must expand hunting opportunities. I predict this crossbow legislation will go down in flames as traditional bow hunters will flock to the legislative hearing, but this type of legislation will keep being introduced in further legislative sessions until it becomes law.

As I said earlier, itís likely the most-discussed legislation will be over license fees to keep Fish, Wildlife and Parks properly funded. I support increased funding for the agency but I have problems with some of the proposed license fee increases.†

License fees have not been increased for 10 years, so an increase is justified. If increased funding is not provided by the Legislature, substantial cuts in Fish, Wildlife and Parks staffing and programs will occur. The people most likely affected by job cuts probably would be the field workers who plow the roads for winter lake access, repair the boat docks and maintain the toilets.†

The lakes in Northwest Montana depend heavily on stocking young fish. Fish hatchery output will be cut. So we need to provide adequate funding to maintain our hunting and fishing opportunities.†

One license fee increase proposal is to create a new base hunting license for $10. This would be a prerequisite license hunters must buy before purchasing deer or elk licenses. This new base hunting license would not allow you to hunt anything. It is just a license to buy a license! We already need to buy another prerequisite license, called a conservation license, prior to buying any hunting or fishing license.†

Why not just increase the cost of the conservation license or hunting license instead of adding another meaningless layer of paper? Another part of the license fee increase proposal is to do away with free fishing and upland bird hunting for senior citizens, youths, veterans and handicapped citizens.

So if you love to hunt and fish, stay alert to these legislative proposals. Just Google 2015 Montana Legislature. This will get you to an easy-to-navigate website on all legislative proposals. Then contact your legislator and voice your opinion. They are working for us but they must hear from us.†

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