HELENA — Hunters and game wardens came together Thursday against a measure they said would make Montana a “poachers’ paradise.”
“I would absolutely support this bill if I was a poacher or an outlaw,” said Vito Quatraro of the Headwaters Sportsman Association.
Would make investigations harder for wardens
House Bill 369 would no longer allow game wardens to charge people for negligently breaking the laws, and it would make it harder for them to conduct searches and seizures.
'I didn't know' would become an excuse
Quatraro said it would make “I didn’t know” a viable excuse for breaking almost every regulation wardens are tasked with enforcing.
Speaking for Montana game wardens, George Golie said the bill would make it impossible to ticket someone for trespassing, which is the most common violation. All the trespasser would have to do, he said, was say, “I didn’t know.”
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, said she brought HB 369 at the behest of constituents who complained about harassment at the hands of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks department’s game wardens.
Supporters of the bill said it would rein in unreasonable laws that were being overenforced on ethical hunters and outfitters.
Make it harder to bus illegal outfitters
Her bill would also prevent wardens from posing as clients to bust illegal outfitters, and it would allow people found innocent of game-related charges to collect lawyer fees and court costs from the state.
Jack Morris, an attorney from Whitehall, told the story of his client, John Lewton, who was the subject of an undercover FWP investigation.
Posing as a hunter seeking a guided bighorn sheep hunt, a game warden went out with Lewton and shot a record-class ram. A host of charges were then filed, Morris said, and Lewton twice cleared his name in court at a cost of about $100,000, which, he added, Lewton is still paying.
Sometimes innocent are hurt
Morris said Lewton’s story shows how certain parts and execution of game laws hurt the innocent and put undue costs on law-abiding citizens.
Randy Newberg, proprietor of a popular Montana hunting website, said he received hundreds of comments about Lewton’s ordeal, all of which said it was unjust. He also said he received many comments saying HB 369 was a bad idea.
(Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at (208) 816-0809 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)