Posted: Oct 27, 2012 10:32 AM by Tara Oster - KAJ News
Updated: Oct 27, 2012 1:59 PM
KALISPELL- Some Montanans are concerned about the future of hunting in the state since the passage of Initiative 161 in 2010, while others are optimistic.
The initiative eliminated outfitter sponsored licenses, meaning those who used to pay more for a guaranteed license, are paying much less for a general big game combination license. And those out-of-state hunters who are not outfitted, pay considerably more.
It's been a contentious issue for the past couple of years, and it seems the debate rages on. Reporter Tara Oster went on Special Assignment and spoke with people on both sides of the issue to see how they feel I-161 has performed.
Proponents of Initiative 161, like Kurt Kephart who authored the initiative, says it's giving equal opportunity to all non-resident hunters.
"It has provided a level playing field for all non residents and it has put a public trust back in public hands."
But others say making all non-resident hunters enter into a lottery is bad for business. Patrick Tabor, who owns Swan Mountain Outfitters says those in the business were initially concerned I-161 would drive out-of-state hunters away. He said there was a dip initially, but the outfitting game is still going strong in Montana.
"That's mostly because of the proactive actions taken by the outfitting industry to try to add some certainty into the licensure process for their paying clients."
Tabor is referring to House Bill 607 which was pushed by outfitters which gave non-resident hunters another option if they were uneasy about the cost of the lottery.
"There's an opportunity for non residents that are unsuccessful in the permit drawings to return the elk portion of their big game combination license for a refund," Ron Aasheim with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said.
Kephart says the other part of the initiative was designed to gain revenue for FWP, Aasheim says their revenue has increased. But he also says there was a change in the license sold. Until last year, the demand of non-resident big game combination licenses exceeded the supply. That changed in 2011.
"For the first time, that was not the case. Those licenses did sell at a later date. So while there wasn't the demand upfront, there was still demand later and we sold those licenses. This year the same thing happened," Aasheim explained.
But that decrease in demand has Tabor worried for the revenue gained from non-resident fees for Fish Wildlife and Parks.
"If those go down, then one has to ask themselves, 'well how does FWP get their funding?' The only other source they can turn to then is to raise resident fees for hunting or look for additional supplements coming from the budget or the general fund which is not likely to happen in this legislative cycle," commented Tabor.
But Kephart on the other hand says Montanans shouldn't be concerned about an increase in fees and instead maybe we should be willing for the cost of our licenses to go up.
"As resident hunters we would be smart to impose higher fees on ourselves to help reach our objectives on habitat and access here in the state of Montana."
It's too early to tell whether or not Montanans could potentially see an increase in licensing fees in the future, and Aasheim says I-161 remains a highly debated issue.
"Whether or not this is working and whether or not it's a good deal; that depends on who you ask."
Sportsman issues have been a growing topic during this election season with most of the major players addressing what they can do to help Montana hunters.