Guest Opinion: A productive legislative session for hunters and landowners
November 15, 2023
By Montana State Senators Steve Hinebauch, Bob Brown, and Mike Lang
Hunting season has arrived! As hunters flock to the hills in pursuit of Montana’s treasured big game species, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the good work that was done in this spring’s legislative session for hunters, landowners, and conservationists alike.
Wildlife issues have frequently been overcome with intense division in previous legislative sessions. 2023 was different. Various stakeholders that are often in sharp disagreement on wildlife and land management policies managed to set aside their differences and work collaboratively to achieve wins that nearly everyone can be happy with.
A prime example is Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hinebauch of Wibaux. SB 58 doubled the limit on money that landowners can receive for participating in the Block Management Program. Block management areas are private lands that landowners voluntarily allow the public to hunt on. Block management is one of the best and most popular conservation tools we have in Montana, and it’s funded by hunters, not taxpayers.
Doubling the payment cap is a win for both hunters and landowners. Farmers and ranchers are under ever-increasing financial pressure to close off their lands, whether due to offers from wealthy individuals to lease the property for exclusive hunting rights, justified fear of property damage from disrespectful members of the public, or market pressures that incentivize subdividing or selling off the land. Increasing compensation for public hunting helps working landowners make ends meet, helps cover the cost of additional foot and vehicle traffic, makes public-access hunting more competitive with exclusive private access, and will keep more land available to the general hunting public.
In short, SB 58 keeps land in private ownership by Montana families for productive uses while also allowing hunters the opportunity to harvest wild game and help responsibly manage our wildlife populations. It helps both ranchers and hunters put food on the table for their families. SB 58 is a win for farmers and ranchers, for hunters, and for conservation.
Another bill that promoted hunting access is House Bill 438, which removed application fees for landowners who enter into Public Access Land Agreements. HB 438 removed a financial barrier to landowners voluntarily allowing access to public lands through their private property.
Passions often run high at the Legislature when it comes to wildlife, hunting, and land access. With over 60% of Montana’s land, including much of the best wildlife habitat, in private ownership, collaboration and partnership are essential to preserving our hunting culture and Montana way of life for future generations.
The 2023 legislative session proved that such cooperation is possible on the policy front. Even more important is partnership and respect “on the ground.” Do your part to protect the hunt this hunting season. Respect private property, show appreciation to landowners providing access, always obey the fair chase ethic, and report bad behavior to game wardens.
Let’s work together to expand hunting opportunities, not endanger them. Good luck to all of our fellow hunters this season.