Recently, fishing outfitter Robin Cunningham’s nomination for membership on the Montana Board of Outfitters came up for vote in the Montana Senate. Cunningham had served as a member of that board, on and off, since 1991. During that tenure, he was involved in a wide range of issues that affected not only outfitters, but how they utilize our fish and wildlife. He was a staunch advocate of establishing and maintaining high standards for outfitter operations and behavior, regularly articulating and voting his understanding that there must be a balance struck between the operation of a resource-based business and the interests of all Montanans – the public trust. He actively sought to ensure that outfitting was a profession that shared Montana’s wild resources – not monopolize them.
Cunningham was not confirmed. Rather than heed the solid support from a wide range of conservation groups and individuals who had experience with the board under Cunningham’s leadership, legislators chose to listen to one small, wealthy, special-interest group — the Montana Outfitters’ and Guides’ Association (MOGA).
In hearings, MOGA members accused Cunningham of bias and unfair treatment. In spite of the fact that two MOGA board members (and officers) currently occupy chairs on the board, MOGA claimed that Cunningham’s position as director of the Floating Outfitters Association of Montana (since 1991) constituted a conflict of interest to performing his duties on the board. In essence, MOGA made the nomination a referendum on Cunningham’s chairmanship of the Board of Outfitters and his professional values. They insisted that his confirmation be denied - and they prevailed.
The Board of Outfitters is appointed by the governor and is responsible for overseeing outfitter activity on behalf of the “public health, safety and welfare.” As an industry that utilizes a public resource, that use must be held to standards of accountability and responsibility, something that Montana law has required since the early 1900s. The board elects their chair and Cunningham’s long stint in that role should have been viewed as a vote of confidence in him, professionalism in the industry and solid board operation.