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.