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May 31, 2010 9:20 PM by Tyler Mickelson (Great Falls)

Montana split on non-resident outfitter-sponsored hunting issue

Thousands of non-resident hunters come to Montana every year to hunt and fish, bringing big money to our state and the outfitting business. Some Montanans, however, feel that the outfitting industry is costing them hunting and fishing opportunities.

The debate has resulted in Initiative 161, a petition circulating across the state trying to eliminate outfitter-sponsored non-residential big game hunting licenses. Petition organizers say that they are trying to open up more land for Montana hunters.

Kurt Kephart, the sponsor of Initiative 161, noted, "Here in Montana, hunting and fishing are family values and they're also a long-time family tradition and we'd like to keep it that way."

Mac Minard of the Montana Outfitters & Guides Association, opposes the measure and said, "It'll be bad for hunters, it'll be bad for land owners, it'll be bad for tourism in Montana and it's going to cost us jobs."

Kephart said, "We want to open up the locked gates, the closed roads, the no-trespassing and the exclusivity with the commercial side of things."

The initiative would take the current non-residential hunting licenses and raise them by more than 40%, a tactic that has failed in other states.

Minard noted, "In Idaho they raised their licenses by as little as 12% last year and suffered a million-dollar shortfall in license sales."

The petition needs almost 25,000 signatures by the middle of June to get on the November ballot.

Both sides of the debate have websites where you can learn more: PublicWildlife.org and Stop161.org.

You can read the complete text of the initiative on the MT Secretary of State website, including this overview:

INITIATIVE NO. 161

A LAW PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION

I-161 revises the laws related to nonresident big game and deer hunting licenses. It abolishes outfitter-sponsored nonresident big game and deer combination licenses, replacing the 5,500 outfitter-sponsored big game licenses with 5,500 additional general nonresident big game licenses. It also increases the nonresident big game combination license fee from $628 to $897 and the nonresident deer combination license fee from $328 to $527. It provides for future adjustments of these fees for inflation. The initiative allocates a share of the proceeds from these nonresident hunting license fees to provide hunting access and preserve and restore habitat.

I-161 increases state revenues over the next four years by an estimated $700,000 annually for hunting access and an estimated $1.5 million annually for habitat preservation and restoration, assuming that all nonresident hunting licenses are sold. It also increases general nonresident hunting license revenues by inflation.

[ ] FOR abolishing outfitter-sponsored hunting licenses, replacing outfitter- sponsored big game licenses with nonresident licenses, increasing nonresident license fees, and increasing funding for hunting access and habitat.

[ ] AGAINST abolishing outfitter-sponsored hunting licenses, replacing outfitter- sponsored big game licenses with nonresident licenses, increasing nonresident license fees, and increasing funding for hunting access and habitat.

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