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  • Writer's pictureLara Birkes

Montana’s wildlife heritage is at risk

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

A long view on responsible management Is Needed

Montanans, wildlife enthusiasts, local business owners, tourists and all those who care about the American West, this is for you.

Extreme anti-wildlife legislation is passing through the Montana State legislature despite widespread, diverse, strong and credible opposition to these unnecessary measures. The opposition is vast because the implications are too.

One of Montana's economic pillars is, of course, farming and ranching.

There is more and more talk of a boycott on Montana products if there is an increase in a wolf and grizzly harvest - especially for beef. This is happening in conjunction with an unfolding opportunity, if we can seize it, which is to serve as steward of the landscape as a whole.

Impressive strides have been made by innovators across Montana to consider ways to ranch alongside wolves, grizzly bears and bison alike. From electric fencing and fladry around calving pastures, to range riding and corralling herds at dusk and dawn, to carcass management, wildlife tracking, and increasingly the use of technology to detect stressed livestock or allow for the timely detection of a carcass.

Does this require rethinking long held practices? Of course. But that is precisely how the pioneering spirit, so synonymous with the West, must be recast to carry us into the future.

Those realities cannot be grounded in snaring and trapping wolves, placing bounties on a hunt and allowing them at night, loosening stipulations for killing grizzly bears and limiting their relocation, hounding black bears and placing restrictions on bison management and translocation.

Another cornerstone of Montana’s economy is tourism. We are currently a top destination for wildlife-watching. In 2019, the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research found that 12.6 million visitors generated $3.76 Billion in revenue to Montana, funding 53,120 jobs and saving Montanans $626 in lowered household taxes. On the heels of an economy struggling to recover from COVID, this is the last thing our local communities need.

Studies show up to 73% of animals caught in traps are “non-target” species. In particular, domestic and livestock dogs. Outdoor recreationists will not want to risk themselves, their children, or their companion animals getting caught in the deadly traps and snares. Furthermore, while all of the trapping bills outlined above provide rights for trappers, none of the bills outline the rights of landowners and pet owners to free trapped animals without violating non-tampering provisions or compensation for the loss of a pet.

These bills do not represent the majority of Montana values and have clearly been proposed by a small group of special interests, creating barriers to responsible management, potentially resulting in Endangered Species Act re-listing, while also harming Montana’s economy.

The challenge before us is how to adapt, not entrench ourselves in the past. To create laws with the next generation in mind by taking a long view on responsible wildlife management. It is possible to recognize our history while designing for the realities of the future. And this includes our relationship with the large species which have defined the backdrop of the American West for millennia.

I believe Montanans are up to the task. But time is short. If you can speak-up in support of Montana’s wildlife heritage, please ensure these bills DO NOT become law by immediately contacting Governor Gianforte at 406-444-3111 and by email to ask that he VETO these bills:

HB-224 (wolf snaring), HB-225 (wolf-trapping-season expansion), SB-98 (loosens language around killing grizzly bears, contrary to federal law), SB-267 (wolf bounty), SB-314 (intends to reduce wolf population dangerously close to federally determined minimums, allows unlimited wolf bag limit per hunter and night wolf hunting), SB-337 (undermines grizzly bear recovery in Montana), HB-468 (black bear hounding), HB-138 (eliminates the requirement for written permission to trap on private property, and eliminates the requirement for a trapper’s contact information to be displayed on traps), HB-302 (grants counties the authority to manage wild bison, our national mammal, but removes that authority from the state), HB-318 (redefines buffalo to end opportunities translocate them in Montana to re-establish wild herds), SB-337 (bars MT FWP from relocating grizzly bears in conflict situations.)


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