HELENA - The Montana State Capitol was full of camouflage and blaze orange Tuesday, as advocates gathered for an “Elk Camp at the Capitol.”
The event brought together a number of groups — led by the Montana Citizens’ Elk Management Coalition and Montana Outfitters and Guides Association (MOGA) — to talk to elected officials about outdoor and wildlife policies.
Organizers say, in previous legislative sessions, hunting and wildlife management bills have become contentious, with a lot of conflict among stakeholders like hunters and anglers, outfitters and landowners.
They hope that, by bringing these groups together early and having good conversations, they can find more areas where they have things in common.
“Our goal at this session is to develop collaborative discussions on bills before they get to the committees, and we've already started doing that,” said George Bettas, with the Citizens’ Elk Management Coalition. “And it's our hope that this will be a much more fun and interesting legislative session.”
Gov. Greg Gianforte and lawmakers from both parties were on hand for the event.
“Everybody’s voice needs to get heard,” said Gianforte. “I firmly believe, having visited with a lot of folks over a long time, when we sit down and have good dialogue, we can find a lot of common ground.”
The Coalition and MOGA have announced they’ve reached a consensus on a package of bills both groups can support.
They include reforming the rules for landowners hunting on private property, increasing maximum payments to landowners who participate in the state block management program, strengthening rules against hunting without landowner permission and against blocking legal hunting and fishing access, and requiring “in-person field days” for hunter education.
The Coalition has also talked about a proposal to set aside millions of dollars to create a “Legacy Trust” to support conservation projects across the state. Sen. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, said there hasn’t been a bill introduced yet, but he’s hopeful the idea will receive a hearing in this legislative session.
“I think that we’ve got an awesome opportunity,” he said.