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HELENA - Ranchers say they should be guaranteed a seat on the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission since they own much of the land where hunting takes place.

Lawmakers heard that testimony Tuesday as they considered a bill requiring that one commissioner be actively engaged in livestock management and have an ownership stake in at least 1,280 acres of land.

Existing law requires one commissioner have experience in livestock management, but that experience need not be ongoing or current, said Chris Smith, deputy director of the commission.

The commission has no position on the matter, but ranchers and sportsmen are lining up on either side of the issue, which has been contentious in the past.

Spokesmen for the Farm Bureau, the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the United Property Owners of Montana came out to support the bill. They all cited the need for a rancher's voice on a commission that manages wildlife in a state where more than 60 percent of the land is privately owned.

Sportsmen's organizations, though, oppose the new requirement.

No action was taken on the bill during the committee hearing.

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