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A frosty coyote out hunting at first light.

A frosty coyote out hunting at first light.

Citing a lack of pilots, the Montana Department of Livestock proposes opening the entirety of the state to nonresidents for its aerial predator hunting permit.

Sen. Butch Gillespie, R-Kevin, carried Senate Bill 68 on behalf of the department before the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee on Thursday. The bill would strike the residency requirement for receiving an aerial hunting permit with the goal of attracting more permittees.

“We have large parts of the state not covered by pilots,” said Mike Honeycutt, the department’s executive officer. “We have roughly about half of our counties that have pilots … but about half of our counties have no pilot currently licensed to fly over them. Some of these are areas like Hill County and Blaine County, I think the folks that live there know that they have plenty of coyotes there that they have to deal with.”

Livestock officials felt the residency requirements may be restricting applications, he said. Current law does allow nonresidents to predator hunt by aircraft along border counties, but SB68 would lift restriction in the remainder of the state.

The state currently licenses about 24 pilots, with numbers as low as 16, which may shoot coyotes and foxes from aircraft on private land. A permit costs $50.

“I don’t want to leave the impression that this program is the only aerial hunting, USDA Wildlife Services also conducts flights to conduct predatory thinning of populations, and even with all of those mechanisms in place, I think most folks who live in rural Montana would agree that coyotes are still quite abundant,” Honeycutt said.

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Testifying in support of the change was Jay Bodner with the Montana Stockgrowers Association, calling the aerial hunting program “very important” to ranchers.

No one testified in opposition to the bill.

The committee did not take action on SB68 Thursday.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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