HELENA — The House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee approved a bill Thursday, Jan. 14, that significantly strengthens penalties for hunters who trespass on private property. 

Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, is sponsoring House Bill 108. It adds teeth to a current law directing hunters to obtain landowner permission before entering private property. It also makes the penalties for violations harsher.

Loge says the measure is inspired by his work on FWP’s Private Land/Public Wildlife Council and conversations he’s had with ranchers who are frustrated by repeat trespassing offenders.

“Some ranchers are saying, ‘If we can’t protect our private property rights, we’re just going to close our property off to everything and not let anybody through,’” Loge said when he introduced the measure on Tuesday. He added that HB 108’s intent is to “clean up the bad actors.”

According to current law, a person who wants to hunt on private land “shall” obtain permission from the landowner. Loge’s bill would change that language to read that a person “may not hunt or attempt to hunt game animals, migratory game birds, nongame wildlife, predatory animals, upland game birds, or wolves on private land without first obtaining permission of the landowner.” The bill also expands the definition of hunting to include entering private land to access public land or to retrieve wildlife.

If the bill becomes law, a first-time offender would face a fine between $135 and $500. A second offense within five years would result in a mandatory suspension of the violator’s hunting, fishing or trapping licenses for at least 12 months. 

The original bill text left the maximum license suspension for a second offense to the court’s discretion, but the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, capping the suspension at three years.

The committee passed the bill with Fielder’s amendment by a 15-3 vote. As of Jan. 15, a second reading before the full House has not yet been scheduled.

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Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.