A revived bill outlawing the use of state-generated wildlife location data for hunting is in the hands of Montana’s governor.
Senate Bill 349, brought by East Helena Democrat Jill Cohenour, would limit the uses of specific Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks data, such as the GPS location of collared elk or grizzly bear dens. While that data would be available under state open records laws, those obtaining it could not use it to “hunt or harass wildlife” or transfer it to another person for hunting.
SB 349 drew the support of several hunting groups who see it as a means of maintaining “fair chase” hunting ethics, which seek to limit the advantage of hunters over game animals. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks testified that it has received public record requests such as the GPS elk data with the intention of the requester to go out and hunt that animal.
The original bill, which sought to prohibit release of the data, saw opposition from oil and gas interests who use the data in their operations as well as the Montana Newspaper Association with concerns over exemptions to open records laws. The bill was then amended to make the data publicly available but restrict its use, and passed the Senate.
The bill stalled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee with renewed concern over the potential of “unintended consequences” and restrictions on public records.
“I just think the language in here is not clear,” said Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman. “It’s broad and open for poor interpretation and constitutional or legal issues.”
But the attention the Legislature brought to the issue, and concern that the publicity would inspire more hunters to request the data, led the committee to revive and pass it.
Debate continued on the House floor ahead of a Monday 53-44 vote to send it to Gov. Steve Bullock.
“I believe some of this information is something we need to protect,” Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls said.
Cohenour also brought Senate Joint Resolution 30, which is a bill to study the use of wildlife location data during the interim. That bill has easily passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House before lawmakers adjourn.