I am a 68-year-old, retired farmer, fourth-generation Montanan, and a lifelong avid hunter, angler, and conservationist with a degree in wildlife biology and research experience on large predators.
I started farming in 1977. Now I own Circle S Ranch in eastern Montana and pay property taxes in five counties. I have always shared the bounty of the ranch with sportsmen and conservationists for free. No one has ever paid a dime for access.
My wife and I have been engaged in conservation, habitat improvement, and fish and wildlife management for a lifetime and belong to many hunting and conservation groups. Several of us founded the Montana Sportsmen Alliance to be the voice of reason in sportsmen’s issues and MSA PAC to hold politicians accountable! I don’t hold myself out as a Republican or a Democrat.
However, I write this letter as hunting season begins to urge all Montana hunters to start paying attention to how you vote, which party is helping local Montana hunters, and which one is not. This past Legislature, ruled by an overwhelming Republican majority, was the worst I have ever seen for local Montana hunters. The laws passed by this Republican legislature and signed into law by the Republican governor were rabidly anti-Montana Resident Sportsmen!
The current director, deputy director, and Fish and Wildlife Commission (all appointed by the Republican governor) are the most incompetent I have ever seen. We resident Montana hunters are treated poorly and the comments we make are completely ignored by Republican legislators and the Republican governor and his appointees. Here are just two examples to consider:
1. Years ago, the citizens of Montana passed I-161 and trounced the notion of guaranteeing tags for out-of-state guided hunters. However, this year our Republican-led Legislature ignored that clear message. First, they tried passing a bill for these guaranteed licenses, which was defeated early in the legislative session because so many of us voiced our objection again. However, on the closing days of the session, the Republicans snuck an amendment into another bill without any notice or opportunity to comment. This amendment did exactly what we had voted against years ago and had again voiced our objection to early in the session. This amendment guaranteed a license to every non-resident hunter who simply hires a guide. Our Republican governor then signed it into law.
2. Following the legislative session, the Fish and Wildlife Commission (all but one appointed by our Republican governor) adopted a rule giving large landowners bull elk licenses to use as they see fit in exchange for allowing hunters, whom the landowners essentially select, to control the cow elk populations on their land. Make no mistake, the Republican party, the Montana Outfitters and Guide Association, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the director and deputy director, and the governor are moving rapidly toward Transferrable Tags, which means ranching for wildlife. Lack of transparency is rampant!
Montana has an old and rich traditional heritage of hunting and fishing. These folks are out to deny that to us. One thing is certain. The Republicans and only the Republicans are responsible for these latest actions, which demonstrate that they have no respect for ethics or fair chase principles, while non-residents are given priority over local resident hunters.
Are we just going to sit back and let this happen? If we as hunters continue to vote for the Republican party, that is exactly what we will be doing.
Joe L. Perry