Our point of view

Jeff HagenerAn Essential Session for Montana’s Fish and Wildlife

The upcoming 2005 legislative session will decide on three pieces of legislation crucial to the future of Montana’s fish and wildlife resources.
The first is FWP’s proposal, now being reviewed and considered by Montana sportsmen, to increase resident hunting and fishing license fees. The last resident fee increase was in 1994. Since then, inflation has eaten away at our buying power. For example, our agency relies heavily on gasoline to fuel the boats, trucks, and aircraft used to monitor fish and wildlife populations, conduct research, and enforce game laws. In the past year alone, the cost of gas has risen more than 30 percent.

In addition, we’ve had to take on many new responsibilities, such as managing wolves, whirling and chronic wasting diseases, river recreation conflicts, new fishing access sites, and web site development. While these costs and responsibilities grew, revenue from resident licenses remained flat. As a result, there’s been a growing gap between the amount of money we spend to manage fish and wildlife and the amount we’re taking in.

Currently, Montana has the lowest resident fees in the West; with the proposed increase, our resident fees would still be the lowest. For example, a fishing license would rise from $13 to $20 (average for neighboring states is $20.50), and an elk license would change from $16 to $25 (neighboring states’ average is $33.50). Discounts for youth, seniors, disabled citizens, and sportsmen who buy combination licenses are included in this proposal. The increases would go into effect March 1, 2006. (FWP is not proposing a fee increase for nonresident licenses because the legislature raised nonresident rates a few years ago. That pushed the disparity between resident and nonresident fees to the limits of what federal courts will tolerate.)

In addition to maintaining existing programs, the fee increases will improve more fish and wildlife habitat, increase walleye stocking, create additional local fishing ponds, boost game law enforcement, help landowners reduce wildlife conflicts, and assist cities with urban nuisance wildlife. Without an increase, we’ll be forced to make cuts in current programs and activities and will be unable to add new ones. During the next several months, hunters and anglers will need to decide whether license fees should be increased or FWP programs should be cut.

Two other important legislative items are the Habitat Montana and Block Management pro-grams. The hugely successful Habitat Montana Program has protected more than 200,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat statewide over the past 10 year. This protection has come at no cost to Montana taxpayers and has kept the land on the tax rolls. Primarily using conservation easements, in which FWP pays willing sellers to forego development rights, Habitat Montana is critical for conserving habitats supporting Montana’s wildlife.

Block Management, the envy of many other states, is another successful program well worth saving. This year, Block Management will enroll nearly 9 million acres for public hunting access across the state.
The authorizing legislation for both programs is scheduled to “sunset” in early 2006. Lawmakers will decide in the 2005 session if these programs are worth continuing.

What do you think? Comment on any of the three pieces of legislation listed above by calling or e-mailing us at (406) 444-4038 or raasheim@state.mt.us..Bear bullet


M. Jeff Hagener is Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks