Trucking couple doesn't qualify to hunt, fish in home state

2010-01-12T12:30:00Z Trucking couple doesn't qualify to hunt, fish in home stateBy BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
January 12, 2010 12:30 pm  • 

For more than 40 years, Joyce Davis has lived in Montana. But according to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, she's not a resident of the state.

Under state fish and game licensing laws, Davis, 55, and her husband, Bob, 50, must reside in Montana at least 120 days each year to be defined as residents. But the Davises work as over-the-road truck drivers. Although Joyce said they own a home in Shepherd, pay taxes, are licensed to drive and vote in Montana, they spend most of the year hauling cargo from one state to another. The Davises are typically home about 75 days a year since they started interstate driving in 2005.

"It's just infuriating to think that all of my tax dollars go to the state of Montana, but I'm not able to hunt or fish there," she said in a telephone interview from Louisiana.

Informant tip

The Davises found out about the loophole in December. That's when a Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden talked to Joyce about the complaint that was lodged against Bob. Joyce thinks a disgruntled former employee is responsible for alerting FWP. When the warden was talking to Joyce about the law, she angrily stated she should be ticketed as well, since the same conditions apply to her.

"Our goal is that they clearly understand the law and that afterward they comply with the law," said Harold Guse, warden captain for FWP's Region 5 in Billings. The fact that the Davises were honest about their circumstances is why they were issued a courtesy citation instead of being cited.

The requirements to be a legal resident of Montana in the eyes of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are spelled out in state code as well as FWP's annual regulations. In the booklet, it is noted that a person:

 Must have been physically living in Montana for at least 180 consecutive days immediately prior to purchasing a resident license;

 Register your vehicle(s) in Montana;

 Be registered to vote in Montana if you're registered to vote at all;

 Not possess current (or have applied for) resident hunting, fishing, or trapping privileges in another state or country;

 File Montana state income tax returns as a resident, if you are required to file.

The regulations go on to state that once a person establishes their residency, they must "continue to meet all these re-quirements and physically reside in Montana as your principal or primary place of abode for not less than 120 days per year (days need not be consecutive)." Exceptions are made for members of the military and those in federal service such as Congressmen and congressional aides. But there's no exception for truck drivers.

"The reality is I'm not in the state a lot," Joyce said. "But I'm not in any state a lot."

Protecting residency

Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say residency requirements, however unfair or broad they may appear in the Davises' case, are spelled out in statute for a simple reason.

"We don't have a real appreciation of how badly people want to come here to hunt and fish," said Mike Korn, FWP's assistant chief of law enforcement. "We really are the last best place."

Guse said the Legislature is the body that defined residency. Each state has its own requirements.

"It was a decision the Legislature made because of the demand on the resource," he said.

What now?

The incident has left the Davises in a dilemma.

"I honestly don't know where to go with this," Joyce said. "We're floored by it. How do we get this changed?"

And how many others may face the same circumstances?

According to the state Division of Motor Vehicles, there are more than 66,000 Montana residents with a commercial driver's license who could also be affected by the state law. And what about traveling salesmen; some of them may not meet the re-quirement.

The law is written to prevent people from buying a home in Montana and claiming residency in an attempt to avoid the drawing process that limits access to Montana by out-of-state hunters. But in the process the law may have inadvertently hit people like the Davises who say they meet residency requirements in every other definition of the law.

"There are probably other truckers in the same boat as these folks, but there are probably others who aren't," Korn said. "I certainly wouldn't generalize to every long-haul trucker. We have to take each one of these cases on their own merits."

Although the courtesy citations the Davises were issued carry no fines, they are worried about the future. How can they get their residency established so they can hunt and fish again without losing their jobs?

Joyce said she and Bob don't live in Montana because they like cold winters, it's because they like to hunt and fish in the little bit of free time they have. She joked they could move to Wyoming, where there is no state income tax, and use the money they save paying taxes to Montana to afford out-of-state licenses to hunt in Montana.

"They want everything tax-wise and you get nothing in return," she said.

Contact Brett French at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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