Proposed initiative could impact private property hunting on tribal lands

Bull Elk in Montana
Posted at 3:31 PM, Dec 06, 2023

HELENA — A proposed ballot initiative that could have a broad impact to elk, deer and black bear hunting in Montana, particularly on tribal lands.

Ballot Initiative 193 would prevent regulations that would impose or affect “a landowner hunting deer, elk, or black bear on the landowner’s private property during a statewide general hunting season.” The initiative does include exceptions for when Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks need to prevent hunting to preserve populations of animals such as drought or disease. Those landowners would still need to obtain appropriate hunting tags through the state.

The author of I-193 is Rick Shoening who is also the Lake County Justice of the Peace. In 2021 Shoening pushed for similar legislation as the proposed initiative so that he can hunt on property he owns on the Flathead Reservation. A similar request put before the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2017 was denied. Opponents of past efforts have stated it impacts the sovereignty of the tribal nations in Montana.

Hunting regulations within reservation boundaries in Montana are currently managed by the individual tribal governments. Currently, only tribal members can hunt on the Flathead Reservation.

The language of the proposed initiative has already been approved by the Secretary of State and Attorney General.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the proposed initiative was heard before the Environmental Quality Council, a legislative interim committee, for the lawmakers to give their opinions. The council deadlocked on an 8-8 vote of support, meaning they officially did not support the initiative and a note will be added to the petition form saying that.

I-193 will now go out for signature collection, and if it collects about 30,000 signatures it will appear on the 2024 general election ballot.

FWP Director Dustin Temple issued a statement Wednesday regarding the proposed ballot initiative.

“Montana statute prevents state agencies from taking any position on citizen-led ballot initiatives,” Director Temple said. “We understand this is a topic of interest for hunters around the state, but in accordance with state law, FWP and its staff will offer no opinions on this matter.”