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Is this a sign of things to come in NoDak, or is this just another version of Cannonball...

Some say plan is 'sale of wildlife'

By Becky Bohrer
Associated Press - April 30, 2002

BILLINGS, Mont. - A Montana ranching group is pushing a proposal it says might convince more landowners to open their property to hunting, but critics say the idea could reduce the amount of free hunting in the state.

The Montana Stockgrowers Association says the program would improve hunters' access to private lands while giving landowners a far better financial incentive to welcome hunters.

Participating ranchers would be allowed to charge some hunters a fee, set by the ranchers. In exchange, landowners would be required to let other hunters on their property for free. But the proposal worries sportsmen and wildlife groups.

"There is a difference between being compensated for impacts to your land and selling wildlife," said John Gibson, Montana Wildlife Federation president and a hunter from Billings. "This is the sale of wildlife, basically."

Some details of the program are still vague, including criteria for determining which hunters would pay and which would not. Similar programs already exist in some other Western states, the Stockgrowers Association said. Approval by the Legislature may be necessary for Montana's program to begin.

Under the proposal, an interested rancher or group of ranchers would have to enroll at least 10,000 acres and submit a detailed plan that included such information as how much wildlife is on the property. That management plan, developed with the help of a wildlife consultant, would be used to establish hunting objectives, like how many deer should be harvested annually to maintain a healthy population.

A portion of the hunters, at least one-fourth, would pay nothing more than the cost of a hunting license to hunt on the land. Others would agree to an additional payment to the landowner.

"We're providing the habitat for these animals and getting no return," said Chuck Rein, a rancher and licensed outfitter who helped initiate the Montana Wildlife Partnership. "This program is designed to give us some return." Some hunters say such a program would go too far.

"The way it's going, unless you have a thick wallet, you won't be able to hunt in the state of Montana," said Henry Mischel, a hunter from Glendive. "This proposal is a step toward that."

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks already oversees a separate program, called "block management," that nominally pays landowners who allow hunting on their property. Some 1,100 Montana landowners have placed 8.7 million acres in that program.

Montana Stockgrowers leaders have been meeting with sportsmen, state officials and landowners in order to further develop a plan, said Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the group.

Officials at the state wildlife agency want to hear more before declaring a position on the proposal, said Ron Aasheim, administrator of the Conservation Education Division.

"What everybody is trying to do is find middle ground: to keep the rancher on the land and do what's good for wildlife and what's good for Montana," he said. "The question is, 'What is best for the most?' That's where there may be some disagreement."

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Anyone know the current regulations on fee hunting in Montana now?

What is happening in ND has been addressed by other states and provinces many many times before. We should pay attention to the various models that already exist, then find one that works best for ND.

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