Because of the continuing concern expressed by Montana hunters, Montana's FWP Commission has released for public comment two alternatives that address the issue of public hunting access to private lands in Montana.
The Commission believes the Montana tradition of free public hunting on private land is rapidly disappearing, Commission Chairman Stan Meyer, said. These ideas are offered to generate public discussion about alternatives to be presented to the 1999 Legislature.
The Private Land/Public Wildlife Council (PL/PW) has been working on issues related to landowner-sportsman/outfitter relations and concerns, including access, since being appointed by the Governor in 1995. The PL/PW Council expanded the Block Management Program in 1995 which uses funds from guaranteed variable-priced licenses to maintain public access to private lands. While the Block Management Program increased the area under block management in 1998 to 7.2 million acres, an additional 400,000 more acres were leased by outfitters and potentially lost to public hunting.
There are many factors contributing to the closure of private lands to the public, including change in land ownership and land use, such as rural subdivision. Leasing by outfitters has also been identified as a cause. The PL/PW Council is examining future restrictions on net client hunter use (NCHU) as a way to reverse the trend of outfitters leasing more private lands. The Board of Outfitters believes that the Legislative direction provided by HB 196 is not adequate. The PLPW Council has a sub-committee that is working on legislative language to provide more specific direction to the Board of Outfitters. They would redefine NCHU as "actual clients served based on a three year average". The Committee is also considering recommending more restrictive criteria that must be met before an expansion would be granted.
Meyer said the Commission is providing for public review of the two additional alternatives, "Gameshare" and "Landshare," to address the decline of public hunting opportunities on private property in Montana.
"Gameshare" is designed to encourage co-existence of public hunting with private outfitting on private land. The proposal would require that lands where landowner-sponsored or outfitter-sponsored, nonresident variable-priced licenses are used must provide equivalent hunting opportunity for the public. "Gameshare" focuses on sharing this big game hunting opportunity on private acres between privately outfitted clients and public hunters, but does not address the number of acres under lease.
"Landshare" continues the current focus on limiting the ability of the outfitting industry to grow through leasing private land by placing limits on the number of clients. This proposal calls for reducing variable-priced, outfitter-sponsored nonresident licenses by approximately 10 percent and redirecting those licenses to lands where landowners provide reasonable public access.
"Gameshare" and "Landshare" proposals are similar in that they place conditions on the use of licenses rather than rely on the Board Of Outfitters to regulate growth in their industry. The responsibility to implement "Gameshare" and "Landshare" would rest with FWP and the FWP Commission.
Meyer said, "The two proposals offered by the Commission are not in competition or opposition to those being considered by the PL/PW Council. It is our opinion that we need more options on the table to facilitate meaningful discussion." Meyer said the Commission is interested in reactions to "Gameshare" and "Landshare," as well as any other alternatives that the public would suggest. That information will be considered by the Commission prior to January 14, at which time they will make a decision as to whether or not to prepare legislation addressing the issue.
Those wanting copies of the proposals and an analysis can link to http://fwp.state.mt.us/hunting/access or request it by writing to: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 1420 East Sixth Avenue, PO Box 200701, Helena MT 59620-0701; or by calling 406-444-9089. Those interested in commenting are asked to do so by January 7, 1999. Comments should be directed to the above address.