President’s Message: Standing Together, Stepping Forward For Conservation
For as long as I can remember, the hunting season started the day after the last one closed. It starts with reorganizing, putting things in order, evaluating how prepared both you and your equipment were, reflecting on the experiences both good and not so good while fortifying your resolve to be better prepared the next time afield. After experiencing the many attacks on hunter and angler opportunities and on wildlife managers and wildlife management authorities during the seemingly hectic Sixty-second Assembly of the Montana Legislature, I see a corollary applicable to our preparation for the 63rd iteration of that Assembly. Hunters and anglers must begin getting well prepared long before that session opens in January of 2013.
Just for a moment or two, reflect on what the future of hunting and fishing and overall wildlife management in Montana might be like had the sportsmen and sportswomen of Montana, led effectively by the MWF staff, volunteers and lobbyist , not succeeded in stopping many “bad bills” from becoming laws. Here are a few examples of what we might have faced:
- Thousands of additional Licenses issued when in some areas elk populations are tanking;
- A prohibition on FWP acquiring additional wildlife habitat in fee title under the existing Habitat Montana authority;
- A general prohibition of FWP relocating wild buffalo or bison anywhere in the State;
- Authority for testing and prevalence reduction of brucellosis in wildlife;
- Prohibited use of Access Enhancement Funds for fee title acquisitions to acquire needed hunter access;
- Legislated numbers (micro-management) of either sex elk permits in some Hunting Districts;
- A modified Montana Steam Access law resulting in reduced access to public waters.
This is just a smattering of the more than110 bills that would have impacted fish and wildlife and opportunities to enjoy them. Governor Schweitzer saved the day with vetoes of some bills that we were unable to stop before they got to his desk. This was a contentious Session and given the makeup of both Houses of the Legislature, it took a concerted effort to be successful in playing defense on so many bills. With this experience in our rearview mirror, how do we prepare for future sessions of the Legislature? Well, I believe it’s much simpler to say than it is to do—but it must be done! We need more sportsmen and sportswomen involvement in informing candidates of our priorities, our values, our positions on critically important issues; we need to find like-minded people to run for office; we need to communicate with our legislators when they support our positions and when they don’t. Feedback is of critical importance if we expect legislators to know and support our positions.
We have said repeatedly that our issues are not and should not be made partisan matters. Hunters, anglers, trappers and wildlife watchers don’t belong to a single political party, so we should be diligent and wise in our efforts to work with current and potential legislators and candidates for other offices. The next “legislative season” starts long before November of 2012 when we each exercise our right and privilege of voting. It starts now.
As I close this message, I want to recognize and thank some of the people and organizations that stepped up to effectively address the many bills that would have adversely impacted hunter and angler opportunities and the effective management of the public’s fish and wildlife resources. I’ll start by acknowledging the tremendous efforts of George Golie, the lobbyist for MWF. His coordination with and support of MWF staff and volunteers was timely and critically important to the overall widely coordinated effort. His engagements with legislators turned the tide, so to speak, on many bills that appeared destined to land on the Governor’s desk. MWF staff Ben Lamb and Larry Copenhaver and Executive Director Craig Sharpe worked the phones and computers along with testifying on bills and “educating” legislators. They excelled at keeping sportsmen and sportswomen informed on bills and how and when to be effectively involved in their disposition. Members of MWF affiliates from Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Flathead Wildlife Inc., Libby Rod and Gun, Bitterroot Houndsmen, Russell Country Sportsmen, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Helena Hunters and Anglers, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Billings Rod and Gun, Laurel Rod and Gun, Public Land and Water Access Association, Big Sky Upland Bird, and Anaconda Sportsmen testified on bills and engaged their legislators often and effectively. Montana Trout Unlimited and several of their chapters along with Back Country Hunters and Anglers, Conrad Sportsmen, Skyline Sportsmen and Headwaters Sportsmen, Walleye Unlimited, Montana Bowhunter Association, the Audubon Society, Montana Trappers Association and Montana Furbearer Conservation Alliance were part of the collaboration focused on hunters and anglers and our unmatched wildlife and fisheries resources. Collectively, these conservation minded hunter and angler groups and many individuals deserve to be recognized and thanked for the outstanding work they did under what were often very difficult circumstances.
Now it is the new legislative season and it’s time to do those things – together - that will prepare us and our representatives to effectively represent sportsmen and sportswomen and wildlife management in the 2013 Montana Legislative Session. It is time too, for sportsmen and sportswomen to step up and support – join those organization’s that engage the legislature – everyday on behalf of sportspersons and wildlife. When asked to join an organization – you should ask – are you there every day?