No Room for Interpretation: Sportsmen Move to Solidify Montana’s Outdoor Sporting Heritage

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator and Internal MARCOMM Liaison

Montana’s sportsmen and women have had enough with the blatant attempts to whittle away at their shared outdoor heritage through ballot box initiatives and have taken a stand in the form of House Bill 367 (HB 367) - Revise Constitutional Language Regarding Harvest Heritage.

In 2004, Montana was among the first wave of states to adopt constitutional language securing the right to hunt and fish. At the time, trapping was thought to be under the umbrella of hunting, but that has since proven incorrect. In 2016, anti-trapping group Montana for Trap Free Public Lands was able to put a public land trapping ban initiative on the ballot. Luckily, the voters of Montana weren’t as anti-trapping as the opposition had hoped and the initiative only received 37% of the vote leaving many to  wonder how an anti-trapping initiative made it to the ballot in the first place.

In Montana, the number of signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot is tied to how many votes were cast in the last gubernatorial election. To place an initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot, proponents must collect valid signatures equal to 10% of votes (48,349 in 2016) cast for the governor in the last general election while a state statute amendment only requires 5% of votes (24,174 in 2016). Had trapping been explicitly stated in the original right to hunt and fish constitutional amendment language, Montana for Trap Free Public Lands would have been required to collect 48,349 valid signatures instead of only 24,174 and may not have made it to the ballot.

HB 367 aims to strengthen the current constitutional language surrounding Montana’s outdoor sporting heritage to include trapping, and close potential loopholes that could allow the anti-sportsmen groups to chip away at hunting, fishing, and trapping opportunities in the state. HB 367 does not disallow ballot initiatives relative to outdoor sporting activities, it simply increases the number of signatures required for measures to reach the ballot. Montana provides an excellent example of the need for strong right to hunt and fish constitutional amendments at the state level to aid in the defense of our time-honored outdoor traditions.

The House Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on HB 367 Friday, March 12th, at 8:00 a.m. and the public is encouraged to submit comments in support of this bill.

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Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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