On March 9, PERC policy director Hannah Downey presented oral testimony before the Montana House Committee on Fish, Wildlife, and Parks in support of H.B. 505 and the creation of landowner-sponsored non-resident elk hunting licenses.
Transcript of testimony:
Chairman Fitzgerald, members of the committee –
My name is Hannah Downey. I’m the policy director at PERC, a conservation and research institute dedicated to free market environmentalism based in Bozeman. Thank you for the opportunity to share testimony on House Bill 505 in support of incentives to promote elk tolerance and conservation by landowners in Montana.
There’s a lot of debate over what this bill means for public hunting opportunities. I want to instead focus on wildlife conservation and what landowner incentives will mean for elk habitat.
The reality is private lands are essential elk habitat—elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem spend as much as 80 percent of their time on private land during the winter. These elk impose significant costs on the landowners, unique costs not born by sportsmen. Based on surveys PERC completed as part of our report “Elk in Paradise,” 87 percent of Paradise Valley respondents reported damage to hay and crops. Montana landowners lose more than $31 million in forage to wildlife each year. Also, transmission of brucellosis from elk to cattle creates the risk of financial ruin for many ranchers, with the average cost of $140,000 to quarantine a herd for the disease.
In the Paradise Valley, agricultural landowners also face mounting pressure to sell off for subdivision and development. As wildlife conservationists, it’s important to find ways to recognize and support the landowners who are providing winter range for healthy elk herds.
Our work in Paradise Valley revealed that expanding landowner hunting tag opportunities is one potential tool that would help offset the costs of elk, make them less of a liability, and promote tolerance and habitat conservation. Many other Western states offer transferable landowner tags designed to match state elk management goals with those of private landowners, including allocating tags to landowners who take specific actions to benefit habitat and species. HB 505 creates a mechanism that expands landowner-sponsored elk hunting options in Montana, ultimately an incentive to increase landowner tolerance for elk and reward for bearing a disproportionate amount of the direct costs of elk. This will not solve all problems, but it is a positive step for partnering with landowners to conserve elk habitat.
I also want to encourage the committee to work with the biologists, ecologists, and management experts at FWP regarding specific numbers in this bill to find a balance that will incentivize and reward habitat conservation on private lands while ensuring sustainable harvest.
Thank you for considering the role private lands play in elk conservation and for the opportunity to testify.