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Next Phase in Montana Boat Registration

Posted: 03/17/2003
By: John Gangemi

After passing the Senate by a 31 to 19 vote the Boat Fee Legislation has now passed onto the House. The House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee will review the Senate version, potentially propose amending language and vote whether to pass it to the House floor for a vote. THIS IS THE TIME TO KILL THE BILL. Please take the time to send a letter, email or phone call to each member of the House FWP committee.


The House FWP Committee scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday 3:00 PM, March 25, 2003 Room 152 in the Capitol building. Filling the room with a solid show of opposition with valid arguments may just end this process. Be sure to keep your oral arguments brief. A list of key opposition points is available below.


From the Senate hearing I discovered it is useful to provide written testimony to augment your oral presentation.  Provide 20 copies, one for each representative of the committee.  Written testimony offers two advantages it allows you to provide more information than your oral arguments and it provides the committee members a reminder of what they heard.


Take Action: Help kill this bill before it leaves the Senate Fish and Game Committee


  1. Residents and non-residents should contact each member of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee by phone, email, fax or letter stating your opposition to this registration fee. American Whitewater has drafted a sample letter.


  1. Non-residents should be sure to inform Legislators this fee would change your travel plans to Montana, you have other choices, and Montana will lose your tourist dollars.


  1. Forward this action alert to every boater you know.


If passed this bill could set a precedent for similar legislation in other states. Your letters can still help kill this bill at the committee level. American Whitewater has drafted a list of key opposition points. American Whitewater has also drafted a guidance document for combating legislative attempts that unfairly propose fees for non-motorized boats.


Sample Letter

[Insert Date]


Honorable [First Name] [Initial] [Last Name]

P.O. Box 201706

Helena, MT 59620-1706


RE: Senate Bill 287: Bill to establish Montana Boater Registration Fee


Honorable [Last Name],


On February 25, 2003 the Senate approved SB 287 by a 30 to 19 vote. I am opposed to SB 287 because it unfairly discriminates against individuals that own non-motorized boats. The bill is intended to generate revenue for acquisition and maintenance of FWP Fishing Access Sites by charging a registration fee for non-motorized boats. These public access sites are used equally by land-based recreation users. Accordingly, these users should also contribute to the acquisition and maintenance of Fishing Access Sites. I recommend this legislation be re-drafted to include all users in the form of a recreation pass for all users utilizing FWP Fishing Access Sites or be dropped altogether.


Furthermore, SB 287 conflicts directly with HB 407 passed by the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. HB 407 prohibits MT FWP from charging a fee for day use of Fishing Access Sites. The House FWP Committee should not in good conscience require a fee for boating interests while legislating no fee for other interest groups that also use the same sites in equal or greater numbers.




John T. Gangemi

Conservation Director


Background on this Legislation

On Thursday, February 6, 2003, John Gangemi, American Whitewater Conservation Director, traveled to Helena Montana to deliver oral testimony to the Montana Senate Fish and Game Committee. The Committee held a public hearing for Senate Bill 287. This legislation if passed would require all canoes, kayaks and rafts to be registered at a cost of $8.50 per boat. American Whitewater alerted the paddling community to this issue in January while the bill was still in draft stage. Similar legislation has been proposed for Connecticut.


Key reasons for opposing boat registration fee proposed in Senate Bill 287:


  1. In February, the House FWP committee approved House Bill 407 which prohibits MT FWP from charging fees for day use of Fishing Access Sites. SB 287 completely reverses HB 407. The House FWP Committee should not in good conscience require a fee for boating interests while legislating no fee for other interest groups that also use the same sites in equal or greater numbers.


  1. Boaters, particularly non-motorized boaters, should not bear the burden to fund the acquisition and maintenance of fishing access sites that are used equally or in greater numbers by land based recreational interests.


  1. Senate Bill 287 fails to include a budget dedicating specific funds to natural resource protection and non-motorized river recreation programs including safety, education and maintenance of river access sites.


  1. Montana has not established a single agency with clear jurisdiction for managing river recreation let alone draft a Montana river recreation plan. As a result it is premature to establish a revenue mechanism for a non-existent program lacking a management plan and associated annual budget.


  1. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, recipient of the registration fees, does not have staff with expertise in whitewater education, safety, and rescue.


  1. Most or all revenue generated will be consumed by the cost of administration and what little remains will be consumed by enforcement.


  1. Ironically, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks convened a 22 member River Recreation Advisory Council charged with developing a guidance document for management of river recreation. This draft bill was never presented to the River Recreation Advisory Council for input and review. Ideally in the development of potential government regulations, if needed a management plan would be developed to resolve user conflicts and protect natural resources then the revenue mechanism would be tailored to meet the plan and the user groups being managed. No research was done in the drafting of Senate Bill 287 to determine if the revenue mechanism actually targets the appropriate user groups that will benefit from a "management plan". Clearly, SB 287 does NOT benefit the whitewater boating community and further penalizes the angling community.


  1. There is no estimate on the number of human powered watercraft meeting the bill's definition and therefore no clear estimate of the revenue potentially generated.


  1. Most of the whitewater boating in the state occurs in areas where the concept of a public boating area is unnecessary and obtrusive (the many creeks, trailheads, road crossings, pullouts, etc).  Simply put, most boaters would rarely benefit from their registration expenditure nor would they want that type of development along the river corridor. 


  1. The few rivers that receive heavy use in the state already have access areas.


  1. Registration numbers will not remain attached to kayak hulls very long because the boats are subject to heavy abrasion from rocks, trees and other objects found on rivers and streams.


  1. Whitewater boaters typically own more than a single canoe, kayak or raft. As a result, they will pay a disproportionate share of boating fees as compared to the owner of a single, much more expensive powerboat. There is also a high rate of turnover of whitewater boats that will make it difficult for either the owners or the administering agency to keep up with registration paperwork.


  1. The bill will increase the operating costs for civic organizations, university programs, tour operators, commercial angling outfitters and whitewater outfitters.


  1. Since very few states require the registration and numbering of canoes, kayaks and rafts it will create an inconvenience and added cost for paddlers visiting Montana. This will discourage paddlers from coming to the state spending money for campgrounds, motels, food and gas eventually causing a decrease in tourism revenues further impacting the state economy.



Joe Balyeat, Chair (R-HD32),  Bozeman JOEBALYEAT@YAHOO.COM
Mike Lange, Vice Majority (R-HD19), Billings MLANGE6@HOTMAIL.COM
George Golie, Vice Minority (D- HD44), Great Falls GGOLIE@IN-TCH.COM
Debby Barrett (R-HD34), Dillon GRT3177@MONTANA.COM
Paul Clark (D- HD72), Trout Creek PCLARKHD72@YAHOO.COM
Jill Cohenour (D- HD51), East Helena UTOPIAMT@PRODIGY.NET
George Everett (R- HD84), Kalispell (Use Legislative Email)
Tom Facey (D- HD67), Missoula FACEY_TOM@HOTMAIL.COM
Dan Fuchs (R- HD15), Billings DANICLINT@AOL.COM
Steve Gallus (D- HD35), Butte GALLUS@IN-TCH.COM
Carol Gibson (D- HD20), Billings JCGIBSON@IMT.NET
Gail Gutsche (D- HD66), Missoula, GUTSCHE@WILDROCKIES.ORG
Larry Jent (D- HD29), Bozeman (Use Legislative Email)
Bob Lake (R- HD60), Hamilton LAKEMILL@MONTANA.COM
Don Roberts (R- HD10), Billings DLROBERTS@ATTBI.COM
Alan Rome (R- HD56), Garison CUTTERROME@AOL.COM
Jim Shockley (R- HD61), Victor  (Use Legislative Email)
Pat Wagman (R- HD26), Livingston (Use Legislative Email)
Sandy Weiss (D- HD13), Billings WEISSFORHD13@HOTMAIL.COM
Staffer: Doug Sternberg (LSD)
Secretary: Kathleen Ely,
Rm 173, Ph 444-4607

Legislative Email:

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