HELENA - There are a lot of big decisions being made at the State Capitol right now, but one bill being considered could impose some pretty big consequences if you’re caught trespassing while hunting for shed antlers.
House Bill 548 — introduced by Representative Jill Cohenour — would potentially up the penalty for trespassing on private or FWP-managed property, like Sun River WMA during restricted dates, from a misdemeanor to criminal trespassing. That could result in a hefty fine or even jail time.
Cohenour says with the price hunters could sell antlers for right now, more enforcement is needed.
"The numbers are $16-$19 a pound [for antlers], a lot of people in a misdemeanor trespass are ok with that, right?" Cohenour said. "It makes them money. So we want to make sure that ethical behavior for hunters, on all lands is taken care of in our code.”
Jail time might not even be the biggest penalty in the new bill.
“To be able to take away hunting and fishing licenses, because that’s a really good deterrent,” added Cohenour.
Another set of teeth in HB 548 is the possibility of taking away your hunting, fishing and trapping here in Montana for up to 24 months. But Cohenour noted that this bill is aimed at stopping those repeat offenders, and not your typical hunter or hiker.
“So it allows for a judge or law enforcement officer to basically deal with the situation as it is. In most cases, what we’ve seen out on the land with our farming and ranching folks is that they have already told people to get off, multiple times," Cohenour explained. "And so they have already seen this guy, they know it, and by the time they are calling law enforcement in to take care of this, basically they’ve already told them multiple times. But in most cases if people are accidentally walking on there, they’re told ‘hey get off’ they’re okay. You know, that’s the ethical hunter that we want to be able to deal with and to make sure that those that aren’t behaving are taken care of.”
She’s not alone in her thinking and this bill is getting some support from conservation groups.
“We think it's a great bill," said Marcus Strange with the Montana Wildlife Federation. "We've been hearing from a lot of outdoor recreationists, hunters, landowners that this [trespassing] is becoming a problem. And from our perspective, this is about protecting, not only the public resource at that time of the year when folks are doing that, for the most part, we should be leaving wildlife alone to kind of restock their supplies after a long hard winter.
"The other problem obviously is the private property rights. We should never be trampling on someone's private property rights, and when we're trespassing, even to get sheds, as fun as it is to shed hunt, we are violating someone's personal property," Strange continued. "So we feel that this [HB 548] is good for the resource as well for landowners."
The bill has passed the Montana House and is awaiting action in the Montana Senate.