Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Proposal would change hunting laws for private land on reservations

Cow elk.

A proposed ballot initiative debated by state lawmakers this week would challenge tribal authority over wildlife management. The proposal could expand hunting access for non-tribal people owning land on reservations.

A state interim committee failed to endorse the proposal that would allow non-tribal landowners to hunt deer, elk or black bears on their private property within the reservation during the statewide general hunting season. The proposal would expand these hunting options for all private land.

However, the proposed initiative still has a chance to make it on the ballot.

Retired game warden Rick Shoening, who owns land on the Flathead Reservation, brought the proposal. He was one of two people who argued for it in a hearing Wednesday.

“It is a political boundary that prevents these owners of 3.3 million acres the opportunity to harvest a deer or an elk on their own land,” Shoening said.

Tribes hold all authority to manage fish and wildlife on tribally-owned land, like reservations, under federal law and treaties.

Fifteen people spoke against the proposal in person and over 80 people submitted opposition comments ahead of the meeting.

Jennifer Finley, a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council Representative, said the proposal could jeopardize state-tribal relations and increase risks of over harvesting game animals on the reservation.

“And the agreement that we have now allows non-Indians to fish and bird hunt on our lands. And I don't think it would be in the best interest of anybody to jeopardize the agreement that we already have,” Finley said.

All four public members of the Environmental Quality Council sided with the committee’s four Democratic lawmakers to vote against the initiative. All Republican lawmakers voted in support.

The committee’s decision will be listed alongside the initiative, should it receive enough signatures to make it onto the 2024 ballot.

There were no Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees in the meeting and in a statement released after the meeting, Director Dustin Temple said the agency cannot take a position on the issue but is available to consult lawmakers.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information