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Fishy Logic

Senate Bill 425The Walleye Welfare Act of 2009 is back again. It goes up for a hearing in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee next Tuesday, 03/31. See previous Bugle articles on this bill here and here. I wasn’t going to start this push for a day or two, but the proponents have kick-started their lobbying campaign to get SB425 through the committee. SB425 sets the stage for the demise of the warm water license stamp in 2012 and will tax every sportsman in the state to pay for an overbuilt, unneeded walleye hatchery. The only legal funding for the Fort Peck currently is the warm water stamp revenue. They want more!

The Walleyes Unlimited of Montana website says they want to “fill the room” at the hearing next week. Here is the gist of the WUM crusade. They are claiming that “the fiscal note on this Bill is bogus…” Not sure why they support a “bogus” bill. They are pushing for access to federal funds in addition to the warm water license stamp. That NOT what the bill says. Here’s how the WUM website presents their case:

“The stamp generated almost $300,000 in 2008 [$282,000] so we are only looking at needing about $200,000 from the Wallop/Breaux Federal Fund. This fund had $2 million left from the past three years and we need these senators to know that SB425 will not affect funding for the other hatcheries.”

That statement is wrong on many levels, but I’ll just try to cover a few. The Wallop/Breaux or the Sport Fish Restoration fund is federal money generated valley_ad2by an excise tax on sporting goods, motorboat and small engine fuel. The money is allocated to states on the basis of size of the land and water area in the state and on numbers of license holders. Last year, Montana got around $7 million from the fund. This money goes into a reimbursement fund. The FWP pays for projects with state money and then applies for reimbursement from the federal money. There is always a positive balance in the fund from money that has not been paid out. This is NOT a surplus. The Wallop/Breaux (Sport Fish Restoration Fund) pays for most FWP field biologist salaries, salary of hatchery personnel, aquatic education, research, and habitat protection among other things. Decide which you want to give up to fund Fort Peck. Additionally, SB425 does not give access only to the federal funds. It gives the hatchery access to “revenue in the general license account or any federal funding available to the department”. Basically the entire FWP budget.

Let’s take a look at SB14, the bill earlier this session by Senator Steinbeisser that died in committee: This was the first bill to attempt to let the Fort Peck Hatchery dip into the federal money. Here are some interesting quotes from the fiscal note for SB14:

“…reallocation of federal Sport Fish Restoration funds [Wallop/Breaux] to the Fort Peck Hatchery will maintain the current level of production at Fort Peck but will result in reduced fish production at eight of FWP’s other fish hatcheries.”

In the assumptions for the fiscal note:

“All federal Sport Fish Restoration funding is fully allocated and the federal apportionment to Montana will not be increased over the next four years.”

“Federal Sport Fish Restoration funding for operations and maintenance at Fort Peck Hatchery will be redirected from the eight hatcheries currently funded with FWP license and Sport Fish Restoration money. Fish production in those eight hatcheries will decline, but fish production at the Fort Peck Hatchery will not change.

“…The estimated total of $598,774 for the four years [2010-2013] under consideration will be redirected from federal funds currently allocated in the other eight hatcheries.” [my emphasis]

So, somewhere between SB14 and SB425 we went from “fully allocated” to a $2 million surplus in the federal funds. FWP put forward two options for funding the hatchery. Option 1, increase the warm water stamp by $3. This would raise enough to fund the hatchery at current levels. FWP didn’t like this option because, “This option, however, will not remove restrictions on what may be raised at the hatchery“. Option 2 is SB425. This one “…would remove from Montana law the warm water stamp requirement and the restrictions on species raised at the hatchery.” “This option would raise about $400,000 to $600,000 annually. The hatchery could be run at capacity.” (quotes from Chris Hunter, FWP Fisheries Division Chief, Helena) If I were a walleye angler, I would be very nervous about FWP getting a foot in the door with this legislation.

There are other reasons why, not only the fiscal note for SB425, but the entire bill is “bogus”.  The Bugle will have more information in the next few days. Please contact your legislators and the members of the House FWP committee. You might try contacting them soon and then again early next week using short, separate arguments. The proponents are hitting this one hard and I don’t know if it’s stoppable, but it’s a bad bill and we should at least try. This bill will have an impact on fisheries management across Montana. Below is contact information for the committee. For those without a personal email, you can use the Legislature Online Message Form. You can also call 406-444-4800 to leave a phone message for the entire committee. Be courteous and make sure you quote the bill number in any contact.

Van Dyk, Kendall (D) Billings kvandyk@mt.gov
Hendrick, Gordon (R) Superior hendrickhd14@yahoo.com
McAlpin, Dave (D) Missoula mcdave94@gmail.com
Barrett, Dick (D) Missoula rnewbar@gmail.com
Beck, Paul (D) Red Lodge paul@beckforcarboncounty.com
Boland, Carlie (D) Great Falls cboland@bresnan.net
Boniek, Joel (R) Livingston No email Legislative Message
Calf Boss Ribs, Frosty (D) Heart Butte frostycbr@hotmail.com
Cohenour, Jill (D) East Helena utopiamt@prodigy.net
Miller, Mike (R) Helmville mike4hd84@blackfoot.net
O’Hara, Jesse (R) Great Falls kenneth59@bresnan.net
Phillips, Mike (D) Bozeman mikephillips@montana.net
Pomnichowski, JP (D) Bozeman pomnicho@montanadsl.net
Sales, Scott (R) Bozeman No email Legislative Message
Smith, Cary (R) Billings cary@bresnan.net
Washburn, Ted (R) Bozeman ted@tedwashburn.com
Welborn, Jeffrey (R) Dillon No email Legislative Message

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