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HELENA - Some Montana landowners appeared before lawmakers Tuesday, urging them to pass two bills that would curb the state wildlife commission's authority to control the number of hunting permits issued.

Republican Sen. Debby Barrett of Dillon sponsored both bills. She said they are intended to prevent the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission from arbitrarily reducing the number of hunting permits available.

Barrett said 2007 reductions in archery permits took place in 31 central and Eastern Montana hunting districts and show the commission's willingness to make unjustified reductions amid significant public outcry.

"The stated reason was to prevent the commercialization of a public resource," Barrett told the Senate Fish and Game Committee. "In short, it was done, it appears to have been done to punish some landowners in these districts."

One of the bills under consideration by the committee would require that game populations meet certain benchmarks over a three-year period before the commission could decrease permits. The bill would apply only to deer, elk and antelope hunting permits.

The other bill would require the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to review economic effects before making changes in hunting, fishing or trapping laws - but only if asked to do so by at least 15 legislators.

Chris Smith, deputy director for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the proposals would undermine efforts to protect wildlife populations in Montana.

"It would write into statute a formula for driving populations into the ground," Smith said of the bill that sets population benchmarks.

Before the commission could reduce hunting permits, that bill would require that the number of game animals taken by hunters exceed 30 percent of the total permits issued for three years in a row.

United Property Owners of Montana, the Montana Farm Bureau, the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association support the proposed measures. They are necessary to ensure that decisions of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission are based on science, not on politics, the groups said.

"It's an example of public outrage to a system that just did not seem to be responsive," said Mac Minard, a representative for outfitters.

The Senate committee took no action on either bill.

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