Monday, May 29, 2023

Hunting, fishing and trapping part of Montana heritage

| May 12, 2023 7:00 AM

As it currently reads, Montana’s Constitution states “the Opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a Heritage that shall be forever preserved.” The key word here is “opportunity.”

Keenly aware it is not a “right,” out-of-state animal rights activists are fighting to keep it this way, knowing full well that chipping away at opportunities is much easier than taking rights away.

This is not a new tactic. Montana’s weak protection for sportsmen and women provides fertile ground for anti-hunting, trapping and fishing activists to attack our heritage of harvesting wild fish and game.

We’ve faced this before and it will only gain traction as the demographics of Montana’s population changes.

In 1990, the CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S. described their tactics, “We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States … We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state.” Decades later, we continue to witness their attempts to turn this outlandish goal into a reality.

At 11.5%, Montana’s population growth has outpaced nearly every state except Florida, with most of the growth in the areas of Bozeman, Missoula and Billings.

When Oregon, Washington, California and Colorado experienced similar growth, they faced a rise in attacks on the history and heritage of trapping, hunting and fishing.

As predicted, these efforts came in the form of ballot initiatives - fueled largely by outside money - which resonated with the new urban voters. The playbook is now well known.

It starts with loss of mountain lion hunting, spring black bear hunting and trapping. And continues to successfully remove other opportunities, one by one.

Last week in the House, Montana legislators passed HB372, a bill that would trigger a ballot initiative where the voters of Montana would have the opportunity to amend the Constitution to include this right.

It follows the recommendations of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. And, importantly, does not create or imply any right of public trespass on private property or diminish in any way vested private property rights. It does not diminish water or landowner rights, the role of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission or entangle the enforcement of game laws.

If passed, Montana would join 22 other states that already have strong language in their Constitutions and the heritage of harvesting wild fish and game will be protected for future generations.

Unfortunately, as Montana’s legislative session begins to wind down, politics are at play. This should be a no-brainer vote for anyone who represents Montana constituents and wants to preserve our heritage, but politics have gotten in the way.

Now is the time to secure this right, to give Montana voters the opportunity to make the choice at the ballot box next fall. We recognize that any amendment to our Constitution should require deliberate consideration.

And we know the loss of our outdoor heritage is an eminent and irreversible threat that warrants this action before it is too late.

Now is the time to ask your legislator to support your right to hunt, fish and trap in Montana.

—Mac Minard, Montana Outfitters and Guides Association; Jeff Darrah, Outdoor Heritage Coalition, Montana Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife; Ellary Tucker Williams, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation; Ryan Bronson, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Matt Lumley, Montana Trappers Association.