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Battle for exact wildlife data, hunting ethics wages on

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“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (1) – 5/29/20

According to the Helena Independent Record, lawmakers, conservation groups and open government advocates are pitted in debate over legislation that restricts the use of access to state-produced data on the exact locations of individual animals, including game. “During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill brought by Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, criminalizing the use of state data, such as the exact GPS locations of collared wildlife in research projects, for the purpose of hunting. The bill sought to halt hunters’ use of public records law, which requires the state to release the information, and gain an unfair advantage under the edict of fair chase hunting,” the article reports. Over the last two years, some 45 individuals have requested said data, with 24 individuals self reporting they intended to use the data for hunting purposes. Proponents of open government are emboldened by the Montana Constitution which has “exceptions for the release of information produced by state agencies,” albeit few. Originally, the Montana Newspaper Association opposed an early version of the bill which would outlaw the data’s release altogether, as did natural resource developers that need such data for environmental assessments. An interim legislative committee dubbed the Montana Environmental Quality Control has facilitated dialogue between Cohenour, FWP, conservation groups and the newspaper association, and a new unofficial draft bill, crafted on May 28, would ask the requester to accept “buffered,” general location data. The Independent Record reports such a measure would “prevent the unreasonable depletion and degradation of fish and wildlife as natural resources,” required under Montana’s constitution, and if exact data is requested, the requester will be presented with the criminal penalties associated with abusing it. “What’s good about this legislation is it’s ensuring there’s an enforcement component and an education component,” said John MacDonald, a lobbyist for the Montana Newspaper Association. “… We believe and hope that will eliminate or substantially reduce instances where people might misuse this information.”

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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