A new law passed by Montana's 1997 Legislature could give wildlife biologists more management options by allowing the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission to adjust the way elk and deer licenses are currently sold to nonresidents. The Commission is currently considering recommendations from an advisory committee prior to preparing a draft rule for public comment.
Senate Bill 394 was enacted to allow separation of deer hunting licenses from the 17,000 Big Game Combination Licenses that are now available to nonresident hunters. A Big Game Combination License consists of an elk, deer, upland game bird, and full-season fishing license. This is the only license with which a nonresident can legally hunt elk in Montana. Under this system, all nonresident elk hunters also must purchase a deer license. It is based on identical management systems for elk and deer.
The intent of the new law is to allow the Commission to modify the structure of nonresident elk and deer license sales within the general framework previously established by law. SB 394 essentially allows the FWP Commission to offer nonresidents the opportunity to purchase an elk license without also purchasing a deer license. It also allows the Commission to set the price for the proposed nonresident elk licenses and for any separated deer licenses which are resold.
According to testimony presented by FWP Commissioner David Simpson to the Legislature in support of SB 394, "Our present nonresident licensing structure frustrates the ability of the FWP Commission to implement deer seasons which differ from the traditional five-week unrestricted season to address specific deer management objectives.. It would be unfair to require a nonresident hunter to buy a deer tag (in combination with an elk tag) which he or she may not be able to use, particularly if outfitter sponsored and restricted to a particular area. A side effect is likely to be additional leasing by outfitters of deer hunting areas for their clients who may not be able to hunt deer in their elk hunting area...."
In August, an advisory committee including hunters, outfitters and landowners recommended that the Commission:
* allow nonresident hunters to elect to purchase a Big Game Combination License without the deer tag.
* charge $100 less for the proposed Outfitter-Sponsored Elk License, based on the of the market based Outfitter-Sponsored Big Game Combination License, which in 1998 is expected to sell for $860.
* charge $50 less for the proposed General Category Elk License, based on the cost of the General Category Big Game Combination License, which currently sells for $475.
The advisory committee also recommended that the Commission determine how many, if any, of the separated licenses are to be sold, and that any reissued deer licenses be sold as nonresident deer combination licenses based on the following priorities:
* up to one-third of the reissued deer licenses may be offered to outfitter-sponsored hunters, but may not cause the statutory limit of 2,300 to be exceeded.
* up to 60 percent of the separated licenses may be offered to landowner-sponsored hunters; with a limit of two per landowner; in addition, sponsoring landowners must offer public access for deer hunting to participate.
* up to 40 percent of the separated licenses may be reissued under the "general category" to meet specific management objectives, including any specific hunting restrictions regarding hunting areas, species, or type of weapon.
Anyone interested in commenting on the issue before the Commission begins the formal rule making process at its October 10 meeting should contact FWP's Wildlife Division in Helena. Following implementation of the formal rule-making process, additional opportunities to comment will be advertised.