Montana Hunter Access Funding, I-161 (2010)
The Montana Hunter Access Funding Initiative, also known as I-161, was on the November 2, 2010 ballot in Montana as an initiated state statute, where it was approved. The measure increased nonresident big game license fees and abolished outfitter-sponsored licenses. In the state of Montana, at the time, to be eligible for hunting licenses, The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks mandated that nonresident hunters wanting to hunt in private lands must have contracted a licensed Montana outfitter. Also, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks would sell 11,500 nonresident deer and elk licenses to the public. However, this random drawing did not guarantee people of getting license. I-161 proposed to make it easier to obtain licenses in the state, according to supporters.
According to Kurt Kephart, who spearheaded the initiative: “This dedicated license for the wealthy nonresident is going away. Just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a hunt in Montana. It (I-161) brings our fee for combination deer and elk license up to the level of Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming. We’ve been losing about $2 million per year if we’d kept up with these states.”
- See also: 2010 ballot measure election results
Official results follow:
|I-161 (Hunter Access Funding)|
Election results via: Montana Secretary of State
Text of measure
The ballot language read as follows:
|“||I-161 revises the laws related to nonresident big game and deer hunting licenses. It abolishes outfitter-sponsored nonresident big game and deer combination licenses, replacing the 5,500 outfitter-sponsored big game licenses with 5,500 additional general nonresident big game licenses. It also increases the nonresident big game combination license fee from $628 to $897 and the nonresident deer combination license fee from $328 to $527. It provides for future adjustments of these fees for inflation. The initiative allocates a share of the proceeds from these nonresident hunting license fees to provide hunting access and preserve and restore habitat.
I-161 increases state revenues over the next four years by an estimated $700,000 annually for hunting access and an estimated $1.5 million annually for habitat preservation and restoration, assuming that all nonresident hunting licenses are sold. It also increases general nonresident hunting license revenues by inflation.
The Montana Legislative Analyst's office performed a cost analysis for the Montana hunting initiative, and according to the results of the analysis, the initiative was projected to increase state revenues over the next four years following the election by approximately $700,000 annually for hunting access.
The measure was also projected to increase state revenues by about $1.5 million per year for habitat preservation and restoration, according to the report.
- The main campaign for the measure was Montana Public Wildlife
According to Kurt Kephart, on the Montana Public Wildlife website's homepage, "Access to our wildlife has diminished in large part due to the outfitting industry's selfish interests. It is understandable that outfitters want to give their customers the highest quality experience available. What isn't acceptable is that the outfitting industry is ready, willing, and able to use private property rights and pro business banter to rob many Montana families of their cherished family values - time spent hunting and fishing together."
- The main campaign against the measure was Stop 161.
- The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation stated its opposition to the measure stating, "...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.”
- The National Rifle Association also was against the measure, stating that the initiative sponsors were dishonest when describing the intentions behind I-161. The organization also stated that the measure was similar to when the state tried to raise the cost of non-resident licenses in order to create an increase in revenue. The result was a shortfall of $1 million when hunters decided against purchasing those licenses.
- The Montana Chamber of Commerce voted to oppose the measure, stating that the measure would hurt the industry, which was important in the state. Small and family businesses, according to the organization, made up most of the hunting industry.
- According to Stop 161's website, they called for the rejection of the measure because, "Currently, approximately one third of the non-resident hunters are outfitter clients, spread over time and space, over both the archery & rifle seasons, over the entire 11-week season, and over the entire state. The unintended consequences of I-161 will be unguided, uncontrolled non-residents hunting in direct competition with Montana hunters, causing more social crowding and more animosity."
- In a letter to the West Yellowstone News Online, the author of the letters stated that a study done by the University of Montana showed why I-161 should have not gone to the ballot. According to the 2007 study,"...the small businesses that make up Montana's guide and outfitting industry contribute over $167 million per year in economic activity, provide over 2,500 Montana jobs, and contribute $11.6 million to state and local taxes. Why in the world would we want to see more Montana families out of work?" The letter argued that the measure would make it difficult for the state's outfitting and guide business to sell their services to nonresident hunters.
- Sydney Tucker Grant, a Texas resident, decided to hunt elk in Montana with a friend, bagging one of the animals seven days into his expedition. According to Grant, him and his partner hired an outfitter who provided equipment, horses, food and also planned the hunting trip. Grant also stated that the outfitter guaranteed them big game licenses. Grant commented, “Well, I’ve never been elk hunting before, and I knew that I needed someone who knew the land and how to pack." However, if the measure passes in November, the trip that Grant took with his friend may not be as easy, as the two would have to enter a lottery to obtain a big game license.
- The Great Falls Tribune was against the measure, urging a 'no' vote by writing, "To us, its primary effects would be to harm outfitters' businesses and limit landowners' options, all with questionable effects on public access. Vote against abolishing outfitter-sponsored hunting licenses by voting against I-161."
Possible election law violations
According to reports, there was at least 34 violations of Montana election law that were filed with Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch's office concerning the initiative effort of the proposed measure. Support for Preserving Montana's Outfitting Tradition/Against I-161 stated that the alleged violations included the following:
- 8 counts of misleading petition signers
- 9 counts of not having full initiative text when asking for signatures
- 17 counts of falsely swearing
According to Kurt Kephart, whose group was spearheading the initiative, "I can’t answer anything I haven’t seen yet. It’s kind of out of the blue."
Although the measure was certified for the ballot, the measure, along with C-105, was the subject of about 85 percent of complaints received by the Montana Secretary of State's office dealing with initiative signature gathering.
Inmate signature gathering
The Montana Outfitters & Guides Association, the main opposition to the measure, called for officials to look into the legality of the signature gathering for the initiative. According to the Association, inmates at the Butte Prerelease Center worked to gather signatures for the initiative for court ordered community service. According to Minard, "Contact with Jay Grant, administrator, Butte Prerelease facility, confirmed that prerelease residents were in fact being used in this manner, although no confirmation was made as to whether these individuals were indeed working off community service requirements."
Grant claimed that they were only hired, not volunteers. Grant countered by stating that the inmates were used as paid signature gatherers, working for $9 an hour and that no wrong doing occurred. Grant was not aware if any vehicles were used to transport inmates to the areas they were designated to gather signatures, to where Minard stated that the use of public employees, vehicles, and time was in violation of a law prohibiting such action. Grant also claimed that inmates only stated they were working for community service after Minard "badgered them pretty good." Grant said, "...they’re felons, they can’t have guns and they don’t have a dog in the fight. They’re just looking to make nine bucks an hour."
The Montana Outfitters and Guides Association filed a lawsuit during the week of August 23, 2010, aiming to block the initiative from being placed in front of voters on November 2, 2010. Mac Minard, the executive director the group, stated that the initiative should have been removed from the ballot due to the allegations that there were violations of state law when the initiative process was in operation. According to Minard, "These are such broad violations. We're asking them to toss the thing out." The lawsuit, filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court, listed initiative leader Kurt Kephart, the Montana Public Wildlife, who obtained signatures from registered voters, and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who certified those signatures.
On October 18, 2010, District Court Judge Jeffery Sherlock ruled that the initiative could stay on the ballot. Sherlock stated that there was no proof that initiative signatures were obtained by circulators illegally.
Path to the ballot
Petition circulators had until the June 18, 2010 petition drive deadline to turn in the required 24,337 signatures, since the proposed measure was a citizen-initiated state statute. Reports out of Montana stated that the measure's sponsors were uncertain, but hopeful, that they had collected enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot. Counties had until July 16, 2010 to send verified signatures to the Montana Secretary of State's office, where the Secretary of State. On July 19, 2010, the Montana Secretary of State verified that enough signatures had been collected, therefore placing the measure on the general election ballot.
Fraudulent signature gathering
According to Kurt Kephart, who organized the initiative, signatures were turned in by a signature gatherer who knew that some signatures were fraudulent. The man, who was not named by Kephart, was hired by a temp agency that Kephart paid to hire signature gatherers. Kephart was nervous that the discovery would keep the measure off of the ballot, which ultimately, it did not. According to Kephart, "It only takes one apple to ruin the whole barrel.I’m sick to my stomach...I’m sure it’s an election fraud. I want him prosecuted."
The signatures were submitted to Cascade County by the unnamed man, and Candy Sonsteng, a Cascade County election official, then turned in those signatures to the Cascade County Attorney's office. Kephart then informed the media, citing a need to be honest in order to salvage the validity of his group's efforts: "If you’re not honest about a problem in your back yard, then the whole thing is going to be suspect...We were very close to making this thing. Now, even if we barely make the district numbers and the numbers of signatures, it’s suspect. The whole thing is thrown into question." The maximum penalty for the offense of knowningly turning in false signatures was a $500 fine and six months in jail.
Blaine County Attorney Don Ranstrom stated that the fraudulent signatures were submitted in Blaine, Chouteau, Hill and Cascade counties. Ranstrom commented, "It is my belief, based upon what I've seen and how these petitions appear, that this person just sits at a table, goes through the phone book and makes the signatures and does the required addresses right out of the book. I know some of these persons and I know that's not their signature."
- In 1998, a measure was proposed to reserve approximately 7,800 outfitter-sponsored licenses for out-of-state hunters each year: 5,500 licenses that would have entitled 5,500 licenses to fish and to hunt birds, deer and elk, while the remaining 2,300 to exclude an "elk tag." The measure was defeated with only 44% in favor of the measure. In 2004, a measure was proposed to add a provision specifically to recognize and preserve the opportunity of Montana citizens to harvest wild fish and wild game animals. The measure was approved with 80.5% of voters voting 'yes'.
- Montana 2010 ballot measures
- 2010 ballot measures
- List of Montana ballot measures
- History of Initiative & Referendum in Montana
- Opposing Views article on hunting in Montana and other states (dead link)
- Opinion article disputing opposing view statements
- Montana offers guidance on signature gathering at polling places
- Battle of the ballots
- Montana Public Wildlife Official Website
- Outfitter License Initiative Only the Top of the Mountain
- Ballot Measures (dead link)
- Initiative 161 would hurt Montana
- Initiative 161 would remove set-aside outfitter licenses
- New West, "Montana Outfitter-Sponsored Big Game Licenses in the Crosshairs," January 10, 2010
- Montana Secretary of State, "Historical Ballot Initiatives and Referenda," accessed August 6, 2014
- Montana Secretary of State, "Archive Publications," accessed August 6, 2014
- Montana Legislature, "Montana Constitution" (dead link)
- The Missoulian, "3 ballot measures qualify for November," July 20, 2010
- Montana Secretary of State, "2010 Voter Information Pamphlet"
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Great Falls Tribune, "Hunting initiative aims for access to wildlife," February 1, 2010
- Montana Public Wildlife
- New West, "Montana’s Anti-Outfitter Initiative Picks Up Heavy Duty Opposition," February 23, 2010
- Big Sky Business Journal, "Montana Chamber Announces Positions for 2010 Election," August 20, 2010
- Stop 161, "Think about it..." (timed out)
- West Yellowstone News, "Please don't sign I-161 petitions," May 24, 2010
- Clark Fork Chronicle, "I-161: Struggle over access pits Montana hunters against outfitters," October 6, 2010
- Great Falls Tribune, "Against abolishing outfitter-sponsored licenses," October 26, 2010
- Queen City News, "I-161 backers accused of election violations," June 3, 2010
- Great Falls Tribune, "Complaints lodged against initiative backers," July 30, 2010
- Helena Independent Record, "Inmates were paid to gather signatures," July 11, 2010
- Great Falls Tribune, "Montana outfitters file suit to stop initiative," August 30, 2010
- KRTV.com, "Judge rules I-161 stays on Montana ballot," October 18, 2010
- Billings Gazette, "2 initiatives likely qualified for fall ballot; 4 are question marks," June 18, 2010
- Billings Gazette, "Fraudulent signature gathering suspected in I-161," June 24, 2010
- KRTV.com, "Great Falls man suspected of illegally gathering I-161 signatures," June 27, 2010
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