Montana legislators heard testimony Friday on a bill that, if passed, would ask voters to amend language in the state constitution related to harvesting and managing wildlife.
House Bill 367 proposes to change the state constitution’s language to explicitly say Montanans have the right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest fish and wildlife with current methods. Currently, the constitution says the opportunity for citizens to harvest fish and wild game will forever be preserved.
Republican Rep. Paul Fielder of Thompson Falls introduced his bill during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Friday.
“The intent of this bill is so we don’t have to keep fighting ballot initiatives every election year," Fielder said while introducing his bill for the hearing.
Fielder said sportsmen spent around half a million dollars in 2016 fighting Initiative 177, which would have banned animal trapping on public land. Montana voters rejected the ballot initiative.
Representatives of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, Montana Trappers Association, Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Outdoor Heritage Foundation, Citizens for Balanced Use and Montana Stockgrowers Association spoke in support of House Bill 367 , saying the bill would provide clarity on hunting, fishing and trapping rights and protect a Montana value from outside interests.
Groups including Wolves of the Rockies, Footloose Montana, Animal Welfare Institute and Trap Free Montana said the bill elevates trapping, benefiting a small percentage of people rather than the majority of Montanans.
Fielder’s bill would also amend the state constitution to say hunting, fishing and trapping by citizens are the primary tools for the state to manage fish and wildlife populations.
Along with several citizens representing themselves and Montana Audubon, Clinton Nagel with the Gallatin Wildlife Association said making hunting, fishing and trapping the primary way the state manages wildlife ignores science and some of the biggest challenges facing wildlife, like habitat loss.
“You can’t kill, hunt, shoot or trap your way out of any management problem," Nagel said.
Amy Seaman with Montana Audubon also raised concern that changing the constitution’s current language on harvesting from QUOTE “wild game” to QUOTE “wildlife” could open up hunting and trapping for more than 700 non-game species.
If the bill passes the legislature, the issue would go to voters in the Nov. 2022 election.