New bill would give nonresident landowners more licenses in Montana

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A new bill is making circles that would benefit nonresident landowners in Montana. House Bill 635 would allocate 15% of the available big game combination licenses to nonresidents who own a minimum of 2,500 acres, according to the Billings Gazette. Supporters of the bill say it would encourage private land hunting and reward those who support wildlife habitat. It could also alleviate hunting pressure on public lands.

“This is an incentive-based approach,” said Mac Minard, executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association. “Disincentives … seemed to be kind of prominent a while back.”

Sponsored by Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R-Fort Benton), the bill had its first hearing last week in front of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. If approved, HB 635 would permit landowners the ability to buy an additional bonus point “to increase their odds” if they also participated in “a state program to increase public access” the prior year like the Block Management Program, according to the Billings Gazette

Licenses would not be allowed to be transferred to employees; only immediate family members. Landowners who own additional adjacent parcels of at least 2,500 could purchase additional combo licenses with the maximum number per landowner equaling five. 

“In the spirit of cooperation, and in the spirit of being able to compromise, the spirit of being able to bridge some gaps with organizations, and not bring the bloodletting to the capitol every time we get together on the legislative session, we are behind this bill,” said Minard.

However, opponents to the bill include Kevin Farron of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), who believes “the legislation would reduce the number of big game combination licenses available to do-it-yourself and guided hunters.” BHA would like the existing Elk Hunting Access Agreements, which require landowners to “provide some public hunting access” to continue instead.

In terms of numbers, every year, Montana issues 17,000 big game and elk combo licenses. If HB 635 passes, that means 2,550 tags would be set aside for landowners who meet the qualifications. They would not receive a discount on the price of the tags; each would have to still pay full price, which is $1,208, according to the Billings Gazette.


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