Montana hunting and fishing licenses may end up costing outdoorsmen and women more money if a budget resolution can’t be found.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) Department is in trouble. For years, it seems, the department has been operating with an insufficient budget, and that funding problem has finally begun to catch up with the state. If nothing is done about the issue, projections indicate that the FWP Department will have amassed a deficit of approximately $90 million by 2026, according to the Billings Gazette.
In other words, hunters and anglers in Montana should expect a few changes in the coming years as the governing body of their wildlife systems attempts a widescreen course correction.
The proposal on the table currently would, unfortunately, require outdoor enthusiasts in Montana to pay more to hunt and fish. This week, the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) met in Helena – Montana’s capital – to discuss possible measures for righting the FWP Department ship. In the coming weeks, the council will take a look at the state’s policies regarding hunting and fishing license fees.
A so-called “citizen advisory council,” which consists largely of outdoor sportsmen and outfitters, has been working on its own to find other potential solutions for the EQC. However, the council has suggested that, simply by raising license fees and establishing a few new fee structures, the FWP Department could get within $1.5 million of its target budget.
In other words, while raising license fees won’t entirely save the department from a steady decline into deficit, it will do a lot of the legwork in one fell swoop. Unless the advisory council can think of some miraculous idea in the next few weeks, it’s likely that Montana hunters and anglers will be shortly be paying considerably more to partake in their hobbies.
So far, the advisory council has come up with several good ideas that could be implemented in Montana in order to prevent the FWP Department from its over-spending problem. One suggestion involved a “base” hunting license for firearms or bows that hunters would need to have in order to purchase any more specific hunting licenses for different game seasons.
Currently, the state requires bow hunters to have an “archery” stamp, which gives them clearance to participate in bow hunting seasons for all game animals, so long as they purchase those licenses as well. A tweak on this law would essentially just require firearm stamps as well.
It’s an attractive option for hunters who buy multiple hunting tags in a given season, since it would require them to pay an extra fee once, but would not – supposedly – raise the fees for each individual license.
Other suggestions for saving the FWP budget without costing Montana hunters an arm and a leg involve changes to the state’s nonresident hunting and fishing policies. One proposal involves raising nonresident license fees for big game like moose, bison, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep to $1,500 apiece. That sounds like a steep price for out-of-staters to pay, but the advisory council believes it’s a reasonable proposal, since Montana currently charges less for those exotic big game licenses than its surrounding states do.
Another proposal involves the creation of day-at-a-time fishing passes for non-residents, giving tourists a flexible option for fishing in the state, and allowing out-of-staters to purchase licenses for each day they wish to fish in Montana.
What do you think is the best option for Montana’s FWP budget? If you live in Montana, what are your thoughts on the potential fee hikes? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.