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UPDATED: 7 pm, February 25: I just received a press release from Safari Club International, also in opposition to I-161. A proposed ballot measure in Montana to eliminate guaranteed big game licenses for commercial outfitters, I-161, just picked up some serious opposition. Proponents of I-161 are currently gathering signatures, so it's still uncertain whether it will actually be on the ballot this November 2. Nonetheless, in separate press releases, the Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) strongly opposed the ballot initiative.

Montana’s Anti-Outfitter Initiative Picks Up Heavy Duty Opposition

UPDATED: 7 pm, February 25: I just received a press release from Safari Club International, also in opposition to I-161.
A proposed ballot measure in Montana to eliminate guaranteed big game licenses for commercial outfitters, I-161, just picked up some serious opposition.

Proponents of I-161 are currently gathering signatures, so it’s still uncertain whether it will actually be on the ballot this November 2. Nonetheless, in separate press releases, the Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) strongly opposed the ballot initiative.

In its release, RMEF states the organization doesn’t like to the process of “hunter pitted against hunter” and wildlife management should be left to wildlife professionals.

“Initiatives are always a slippery slope and are especially concerning when it comes to new wildlife management policies,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “Besides, at the end of the debate, it is the landowner who will decide how his or her land is used, not the hunter or the outfitter. What is proposed in I-161 is likely to increase private leasing of lands in an unregulated manner, and that will go against both sides in this debate.”

Allen also warned that the “the potential for unintended consequences here is significant” and the ballot measure could create bigger issues than exist now. “Neither the hunter nor the outfitter is the boogeyman, and it is disappointing to see the two sides opposing one another.”

The NRA opposition was more rooted in basic disagreement with the concept of ballot initiatives to decide wildlife management issues. “Initiatives pertaining to hunting laws, by their very nature, politicize the state’s wildlife management policies,” the NRA insisted. “For this reason, NRA has always opposed ‘ballot box’ wildlife management.”

In its release, the NRA made the issue personal by re-naming I-161 “the Kephardt Initiative” after the measure’s primary ball carrier, Kurt Kephardt of Billings, and then stated: “Kephardt Initiative circulators are currently out aggressively pursuing signatures to qualify for the ballot. Reports suggest that they are being anything but honest when describing the measure to the Montanans they target.”

The NRA also echoed one of many concerns expressed by the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association (MOGA) on I-161, the “monumental mistake” made by Idaho last year where the state increased the cost of non-resident licenses to generate more revenue, but instead the move resulted in a $1 million shortfall when hunters declined to buy them.

“Neither the NRA nor RMEF statements address the merit (or lack there of) of I-161 but address the loss of open process that ballot initiatives impose,” MOGA executive director Mac Minard said in an email to NewWest.Net. “Their statements also speak to the benefits of sportsmen working together rather than fracturing the hunting community.

“MOGA agrees with both those points,” Minard added. “While we strongly disagree that I-161 does anything beneficial for the average hunter in Montana we see the value of seeking solutions in public forums like the Private Land /Public Wildlife Council rather than in the form of a ballot initiative.”

The 1993 Montana Legislature created the Private Land/Public Wildlife Council to work on the difficult relationship between private landowners and public hunters. Landowners, outfitters, sportsmen and agency representatives sit on the council, and the current system of outfitter-sponsored licenses was one of the council’s recommendations.

To read the initial article on the I-161, click here, and for a follow-up Wild Bill column on it, click here.

About Bill Schneider


  1. Jean Johnson says:

    Good article, Bill. I think RMEF and others who oppose the initiative process for making decisions and policies regarding wildlife management clearly understand how this one process encourages comments rather than facts. In the legislative arena, proponents and opponents stand at the podium and subject their comments to questions from legislators. When one supports or opposes a bill, one has to back up arguments with fact. Equally important is the understanding that a bill passed one session can be amended or tossed by subsequent sessions. Always in the public eye and with public participation.

    When decisions are made in the initiative arena, however, they are pretty much cast in concrete as legislators are really reluctant to amend anything passed by their constituents. So, if a mistake is made or if there are consequences that Kephart’s supporters don’t understand until they see the effects in the field, well, too bad. And believe me! there are consequences to I-161 that no one will like – including game wardens . . .

  2. Dave Skinner says:

    Jean, I’m kind of curious…do the ballot sigs become public record? If they do, maybe a handy database for Montana ranchers is in the offing.

  3. Jean Johnson says:

    Dave, I would defer the question to Alan Miller at the Secretary of State’s office – 444-4732. My sense is that anyone can go into the county clerk and recorder’s office and ask to see the petitions for the purpose of looking at signatures, and who carried the petition and swore to certain conditions of gathering signatures. Because the signature gatherer has to sign a notarized affidavit that he/she followed strict requirements when asking someone to sign, the public would logically be entitled to that information. False swearing before a notary is illegal.

  4. Cowboy Joe says:

    This is why I dropped RMEF, they use to advertise as ‘APOLITICAL’ they focused on habitat and only habitat. Now that they are taking political positions they lost their purity as an organization. Sell outs like the rest…

  5. Mike says:

    No one should be guaranteed hunting tags, ever. It’s called science. Either you follow the science and do what’s best for the species or you do what’s worst for the species. There is no middle ground. If game is hgh, happy hunting. If not, sit it out. This is what responsible grown ups do. Also, no one commercial outfit should be guaranteed any tag. This is not some free gift that should be bestowed upon commercial interests in perpetuity. This is *wildlife*. It’s not a toy or a wishbone to be yanked on for our ownamusement.

    And no offense to anyone, but the NRA showing concern for “facts” is dubious at best. They are about as oblivious to facts as global warming deniers.

  6. Sam Milo says:

    I agree Cowboy Joe. When they concentrated on habitat, I supported them.

    Apparently the RMEF is in bed with MOGA. Picture a grizzled guy in bed, flies buzzing around the stetson on his head wearing cowboy boots and silk neckerchief, smoking a cigarette with his arm around a 6pt bull wearing a bell and a smile. Wish I could draw.

    Sam Milo

  7. Montucky says:

    Must be a good initiative if the NRA and RMEF both oppose it.

  8. GlennCK says:

    I am a proud member and supporter of both the RMEF and the NRA. Both these groups oppose 161 because the bollot box is no way to manage wildlife. The RMEF recently took a strong position on wolf management. In many minds a long over due “political position” that was viewed by many RMEF members as a step in the right direction.

    I suggest you read the language of 161, consider the negative fallout of this initiative before you blast the NRA or RMEF.

  9. Rich Birdsell says:

    Sounds like a couple of you guys need to re-read the statement made by RMEF. They concentrate on habitat AND hunting. The statement that stands out is ‘wildlife management should be left to wildlife professionals’. The theme here is that initiatives are a poor method to achieve new wildlife management policies.

  10. Tom Klumker says:

    Hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport, no doubt about it.

    In New Mexico the State issues landowner elk and antelope permits in a form of compensation to the landowners who provide a huge share of the elk and antelope habitat and which in turn give the private landowners incentives to manage for more wildlife which has helped keep their numbers up and benefits all hunters both on private and on public land. These permits are either unit wide or ranch only depending on the landowners situation. Usually only the larger ranchers are ranch only. These guaranteed tags are very valuable property and sell for big bucks. A lot of them are bought up by outfitters but many go to individuals. It is simply supply and demand.

    Many states don’t do this, such as Arizona and it is definitely not popular with many resident hunters who feel all of the licenses should go into the draw, and that gives them somewhat better odds to draw the tags.

    Many State Game Departments need the non-resident higher revenues and as outfitters bring in these non-residents they enhance different methods to make sure they make their needed operating revenues.

    As usual it is about money. The old adage, “Follow the Money” holds true here.

    I do think the landowners should be compensated for all they provide for our elk herds. It has been fought over, hashed over, fought over some more and still not everyone is happy. I don’t think it ever will but NM keeps trying to tweek it so it is fair for everybody.

    I think there are some parallels between Montana’s program and New Mexico’s.

    As far as RMEF and NRA, I think they both have a dog in the fight and although I’m not a big fan of RMEF for buying up private ranches and turning them back over to the Federal Government, it makes a lot of Joe Blow hunters happy to get more public land to hunt.

  11. Michael Reddford says:

    RMEF has big ties to the outfitter industry …just attend a convention and see for yourself. The NRA would be better served sticking with a business they already know…playing politics in Washington. The increased privatization of public wildlife is resulting in a ‘european’ model which does nothing for hunter recruitment or the future of the sport. It’s time for the subsidization of an industry –that only serves itself and directly seeks to remove access from the public– to end. Oh yeah, and let’s get those non resident fees up there, more in line with other western states. The non-rez may squawk at first, but they’ll come around. Montana is tops.

  12. Tom Klumker says:

    The outfitter industry is always bashed in these arguments but to the RMEF and all State Game Departments, they help bring in a major part of their revenues. Most states already have high non-resident fees plus lawmakers look at the huge revenues brought into their respective states’ economies by the outfitting industry and non-resident hunters.

    The big question is and you hit on it Michael, and that is subsidization of the industry and either have the resident hunters pony up the needed revenues or have the states go to their respective “General Funds” to operate their Game Departments, which isn’t very likely to happen, as the taxpayers will nix that idea.

    I think there needs to be a fair balance for all sides of the issue and as we get more and more people wanting to share in the wildlife resource, the costs keep going up and the supply and demand grows farther apart. I hate to see it become a rich mans sport or “the European-ization of hunting” as bad as anybody. You can’t really blame the landowners for after all they provide a big share of the habitat and waters for the state’s wildlife. We are pretty fortunate in most of the West in that there is a lot of public land and much of it is prime wildlife habitat.

  13. Treehuggin' Cowgirl says:

    It’s interesting to me that all the discussion of the Initiative has focused on private land outfitters. Has anyone considered how it will impact public land outfitters? Those guaranteed licenses don’t appear to impact others’ hunting opportunities, but the change would certainly impact the outfitters’ bottom lines.

  14. Jean Johnson says:

    If it weren’t so frustrating, it would be amusing to note how supporters of I-161 turn on organizations like RMEF once they come out in opposition to the initiative. RMEF is about elk and elk habitat. If the organization is going to produce meaningful results [more habitat snatched from the jaws of development], it needs money. What does the RMEF have to sell? Framed pictures, rifles and gift shop items can only do so much. Thank God outfitters give RMEF hunting [and other outdoor recreation] trips to sell! That way, everyone – and I do mean everyone – benefits.

    Supporters of I-161 bash RMEF and NRA and SCI because they simply cannot point to any actual benefits derived from I-161 that come close to outweighing the negative consequences. If you can’t run a positive flag up the pole, all that’s left is to tear down someone else’s flag.