- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A new law enacted this year by the Montana Legislature clarifies when hunters must tag animals they successfully take in the state.

House Bill 279 received overwhelming support in the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Steve Bullock on March 31.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, clarifies that an animal must be tagged before the hunter leaves the site of the kill or before the animal is transported from the kill site. Previously, the law said the tag must be applied immediately.

“This legislation really clears all of that up,” Ron Aasheim, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks communications and education bureau chief, said.

The agency supported the change because it makes the law easier to enforce, Aasheim said.

Two brothers whose hunting experience led to the change take some consolation in the fact that the law has been clarified to avoid confusion in the future, but they remain angry with FWP officials about how they were treated and how their case was resolved.

“Although it doesn’t do me any good, I am pleased that they changed an outdated (1950s) law,” Jim Latvala wrote in an email to The Billings Gazette (https://bit.ly/1bc2ULQ). “It will help those who hunt in Montana in the future and will allow them to enjoy the moment, pay their respects and take a few pictures of their hunt … which is exactly what I was doing when the warden approached me.”

Latvala said he may sue the department for the cost of his hunt, which he estimated at $2,000, and is also seeking a public apology.

The incident occurred on the opening day of the 2014 rifle season. Jim Latvala was hunting with his brother, Warren, on private property outside Clyde Park in the Shields River Valley. After Jim shot a six-point bull, Warren went to get his tractor to move the elk while Jim stayed behind to begin field dressing the animal.

It was while preparing to field dress the elk that an FWP warden approached Jim Latvala and noted he had watched the hunt from the nearby highway. Accompanying the warden was a videographer for a popular Montana wardens’ television show.

Jim Latvala said he showed the warden his filled out tag, but the warden confiscated the elk and issued a $135 citation to Jim Latvala because it took more than 20 minutes for him to notch the tag rather than immediately.

After contesting the ticket three days later, the county attorney dropped the charge and FWP returned the head of the bull, but not the meat, which had been processed and distributed to a Livingston food bank.

Warren Latvala said in an email that there “was no reason for it all to happen in the beginning, and it could easily have been cut short afterward.”

“The passage of HB279 into law does ease some of my concerns though, it’s a first step and shows, by their support, that FWP knew the old rule was wrong and would continue to be fought by the public,” Warren Latvala wrote.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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