The advisory council tasked with considering changes to Montana’s hunting and fishing licenses and fees will meet in Helena, Dec. 11. The council has reached the halfway point in its schedule to deliver recommendations to state officials by spring.
The Fish & Wildlife Licensing and Funding Advisory Council is examining Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' current license system and funding cycle for fish and wildlife management. That work includes simplifying the different types of hunting and fishing licenses now available and considering the impacts special earmarked accounts and free and discounted licenses have on FWP funding. The aim of the council is to determine a pricing structure for hunting and fishing licenses that will provide a sufficient, fair and stable source of revenue for fish and wildlife management in Montana.
The council's recommendations will come at a critical time as FWP nears the end of a 10- year cycle since the last increase in resident hunting and fishing license fees. Montana's last general resident hunting and fishing license fee increase came in 2005 and in 2003 for nonresidents. FWP fish and wildlife management programs are primarily funded via the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.
A number of new ideas on how to best fund fish and wildlife management in Montana for the long term are also under consideration, said State Representative Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, the LFAC chairman.
"We're not yet done with our work but I can tell you this is as thoughtful and committed a group of Montanans as I've ever worked with," Welborn said. "Everyone fully understands that this is a difficult, complex issue that reaches into every Montana community and touches every hunter and angler across the state as well as tens of thousands of people who visit Montana each year."
So far some possible recommendations include:
• across the board adjustments to standardize the more than 30 different free and discounted hunting and fishing licenses;
• a standardized age at which Montana's youth hunting, fishing and trapping licenses are available;
• evaluation of alternatives to what has been approximately a10-year legislatively approved FWP funding cycle, such as allowing the Fish & Wildlife Commission to establish fees, or to seek more frequent, yet smaller, fee increases via the Montana Legislature.
The call for the funding and license review came from both the 2013 Montana Legislature and Governor Steve Bullock. The Legislature passed House Bill 609, which requires the Montana Legislature’s Environmental Quality Council to conduct a study of hunting and fishing license statutes and fees, while Gov. Bullock requested that FWP begin a public effort to create FWP's budget for consideration by the 2015 Legislature.
The council was appointed by FWP Director Jeff Hagener and is one component of FWP's overall effort to increase revenue to address future program budget needs while also reducing spending. FWP, for instance, recently implemented budget cuts, cost savings and funding shifts that will save FWP $4.4 million annually.
"A license fee increase could be another part of the equation to meet the costs of managing Montana's fish and wildlife resources in the future," Hagener said.
The council's next meeting will begin at 9 a.m. on Dec. 11, at the Montana Wild Education Center, 2668 Broadwater Ave, next to Spring Meadow Lake State Park off Highway 12 West. The meeting is open to the public and members of the public are encouraged to provide comments at noon.
An additional opportunity for public comment is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2014 during Montana Legislature's Environmental Quality Council meeting in Room 172 of the Capitol building in Helena.
The LFAC is scheduled to deliver recommendations to FWP Director Hagener by March 31, 2014. A number of statewide public meetings—and an extended public comment period— will follow in April. An FWP budget and funding package will then be prepared for consideration by the 2015 Montana Legislature.
"In many ways, in this state, how we choose to fund fish and wildlife management strikes at the heart of who we are as a people," Welborn said. "It's no small task and we encourage others with a stake in this—which is literally everyone who lives here—to get involved now."
Welborn said council members also encourage citizens to contact them directly with ideas and comments. Each member's contact information is available via FWP's website. Members include Mark Aagenes, Missoula; Tim Aldrich, Missoula; Ed Beall, Helena; Robin Cunningham, Gallatin Gateway; Bob Gilbert, Sidney; Edward Hammer, Billings; Arthur Hayes III, Birney; James Olson, Hamilton; Debby Perry, Brady; Brett Todd, Big Timber; FWP Commissioner Dan Vermillion, Livingston; State Senator Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, and Rep. Welborn in Dillon.