The boat tag bill: Montana legislator proposes annual tag for all boats to fund FWP projects

Floaters prepare their boats for launch from Livingston’s Mayor’s Landing for the annual Yellowstone River Boat Float on July 8. A new bill proposed by Montana House Rep. Alan Redfield (R) of Park County would ask boaters to purchase an annual boat tag to raise funds for weed control and fishing access site maintenance.

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Photo courtesy of Yellowstone Newspapers

Is $25 a year for a boat sticker too much to pay if the money goes for weed control and fishing access site maintenance?

Alan Redfield, a Republican representative from House District 59, which covers Sweet Grass County and most of Park County, has proposed a bill to be presented in the upcoming Montana Legislature’s biennial session to find out.

The proposed legislation would require all “vessels” in Montana to pay the annual fee, which would be divided between weed control at fishing access sites and maintaining and improving fishing access sites.

Redfield, who said an outfitter brought the idea to him, stated there will be those who may not agree with it, but he suggests that people who use rivers should contribute something toward their maintenance, especially the well-used and well-loved Yellowstone River.

“There will be a few people upset, but the pressures we put on it will ruin the river if we’re not careful,” Redfield said.

The Montana Legislature will face large budget requests and higher costs in established programs, Redfield said, with a finite amount of funds available. Raising funds from boaters is one way to stretch taxpayer dollars — as well as make people aware of noxious weeds, which can overtake native species and threaten agriculture and native landscapes.

“Everybody who uses the river, everybody who uses the fishing access sites, has the ability to transport invasive species,” Redfield said. “This could make people aware they have a little bit of responsibility to keep from ruining the fishing or countryside.”

Montana Fish and Game Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion, of Livingston, said other states like Idaho have implemented boat tags successfully. The proposal has come before past legislative sessions and has never passed, but it could take someone like Redfield, to bring it forward, Vermillion said.

Vermillion supports the proposed legislation.

“Alan has always cared and been nonpartisan” about the boat fee idea, Vermillion said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

Sam Sheppard, the supervisor of FWP Region 3, which encompasses a large swath of southwest Montana, said Tuesday the region has 96 fishing access sites.

The region spends about $32,000 annually on weed control at fishing access sites, he said.

Sheppard said his department hasn’t seen the draft legislation yet and couldn’t comment on it. But he noted that fishing access sites are seeing increasing use across the state, which includes users who contribute financially and those who do not.

Outfitters and fishing guides, and sportsmen and sportswomen contribute through fees they pay for licenses and other commercial fees charged fishing guides, Sheppard said.

Sheppard said FWP doesn’t track how many boats are used annually on Montana’s rivers and lakes, so there’s not a solid mechanism for predicting how much money the boat tag might raise.

Redfield said the bill would be heard in the Fish and Game Committee. Because the draft bill was prepared early, he expects it will be heard relatively early in the session, which begins Jan. 2.

The bill can be followed through Redfield’s legislative web page at http://bit.ly/2hs1NvE. Scroll down to “Associated Bills,” and the boat tag is currently numbered LC0947. The number will change as it moves from draft to a more final form.

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