Monday, February 18, 2013

GOP "solves" corner-crossing question, by reducing funds for wildlife habitat

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Republicans in the Montana Legislature today claimed they’ve found a solution to the recently debated issue of corner-crossing in Montana. House Bill 404, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Flynn of Townsend, passed its second reading on the House floor this afternoon by a 66-34 vote. The measure, now on its way to the House Appropriations Committee, calls for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to increase funding for block management in the state, and is part of a two-bill package the GOP believes will answer a question that’s plagued scores of sportsmen for decades.

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The timing couldn’t have been more ironic for HB 404. Its moment on the House floor came several weeks after Missoula Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill introduced her own fix, HB 235, to the House Judiciary Committee. Hill sought to legalize corner-crossing outright, and the move was strongly backed by sportsmen. But her bill failed when every Republican on the committee—including HB 235 co-sponsor and committee chair Rep. Krayton Kerns—voted against it claiming the proposal constituted an unconstitutional take of private property rights.

Hill attempted to blast the measure to the House floor this afternoon, but the motion failed. HB 235 proponents had flocked to the Capitol hours before, many sporting hunter orange, for a support rally.

The GOP didn’t hesitate to steal the wind from Hill’s sails, with the Montana Republican Party announcing via Twitter shortly before the HB 404 vote that “Republicans will begin solving the corner crossing/trespass issue.” However, HB 404 stops far short of HB 235 in solving the legality of corner-crossing. While the gist of the Republicans’ companion bill has yet to be announced, HB 404 alone merely allows the state to “incentivize landowner participation through the use of leases, easements, or block management programs.” The success of the bill, if passed into law, in opening hundreds of thousands of acres of isolated public land will depend entirely on the willingness of private landowners to accommodate public passage.

Where exactly did Flynn and his fellow Republicans find additional spending in FWP’s already too-tight budget to fund this block management increase? Therein lies what could be HB 404’s biggest hitch. According to the bill’s language, 25 percent of the money collected through state hunting license and permit sales would be allocated to such private landowner agreements. The allocation will be made possible by a reduction in the amount of license money FWP is directed to spend “to secure wildlife habitat”—a reduction from 80 percent to 55 percent, to be exact.

In short, the GOP’s corner-crossing solution seems to be: pay private landowners for permission to access public land, using money that would normally go toward protecting the very resource sportsmen want access to.

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