Montana is not alone in trying to find a happy medium between resident sportsmen and nonresident sportsmen. Our neighbors to the east are going through much the same thing.
Finding that happy medium isn’t easy – especially when you start talking about the license dollars that nonresident sportsmen bring into our states.
Curt Wells, of Dakota Country, a monthly hunting and fishing magazine for North and South Dakota, devoted his entire column to the subject last month.
Wells wrote that he testified at a public meeting that was held in Fargo, N.D. The meeting was held to address nonresident hunters, leasing, outfitters and other issues pertaining to North Dakota’s outdoors.
When I was back pheasant hunting in South Dakota in November, I read a story in the Rapid City Journal about how non-resident pheasant road hunters were causing a problem for some landowners in that state. In South Dakota road hunting for pheasants is legal, but you cannot shoot within 660 feet from an occupied building or from livestock. Non-residents, not local residents, were the ones not obeying the shooting distance law according to the story.
The underlying problem for Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota is that close to a majority of their adult residents hunt and fish. Most of these sportsman and woman will tell you the reason they live in each one of these states is because of the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
Are non-residents limiting our fishing and hunting in Montana?
I talked to Bill Thomas the information officer for Region 2 of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to find out what nonresidents contribute to the FWP general fund. I was surprised at what he told me.
The FWP budget for 2000 is $53.8 million. This is how that budget is funded:
— $12 million comes from the Federal Government. This money is generated from an excise tax on sporting goods sold across the US.
— $6.8 million is contributed to the budget from user fees collected at state parks and campgrounds.
— $34.6 million is generated through the selling of resident and non-resident hunting and fishing licenses. Non-resident license fees contribute two thirds of the $34.6 million. So $22.84 million goes directly to the MFW&P budget from non-residents. In fact, next year non-resident license fees will increase while resident license fees will remain the same except that big game resident hunters will have an increase of $2 next year per license with that money earmarked to help fund the MFW&P block management program.
— $416,000 from the state’s general fund. Most of that money was paid to FWP to maintain the land around the Capital complex in Helena.
Unlike some other state agencies, FWP is, for the most part, self-funded. Over 40 percent of that funding is contributed from non-resident license fees.
Unless we can figure out how to replace that contribution to FWP, we won’t have to worry about one thing. That’s changing the signs when you enter the state that read “Welcome to Big Sky Country.”