Montana Wildlife Federation Opposes Anti-predator Hysteria in the Legislature

In a regressive approach to the dark ages of wildlife management, the Montana Senate this week passed bills that will allow hunters and trappers to kill unlimited numbers of wolves on a single license, hunt wolves at night with spotlights, use neck snares, and bait wolves to traps. On top of all this, the Senate passed a bill that will allow wolf hunters and trappers to be paid for the presentation of dead wolves, which is a bounty on the species.

The Montana Wildlife Federation, our state’s oldest and largest state-based wildlife conservation and sporting organization, said these measures do not align with Montana’s decades-long history as a leader in conservation and management of wildlife.

“Collectively these bills represent an all-out fervor against grey wolves, both black and grizzly bears and mountain lions,” said Chris Servheen, MWF vice president of issues. “Montana has successfully managed predators for years, and included scientifically sound hunting, but now we’re clearly regressing back into the dark ages by waging aggressive, unethical campaigns against these native wildlife species.”

The Legislature is also considering bills to extend the wolf leg-hold trapping and neck snaring season into the time when bears are out of their dens. This will result in black and grizzly bears being strangled or maimed in wolf snares. Another bill under consideration would allow hound hunting of black bears in the spring followed by a recreational hound chase season. Since grizzly bears can be found anywhere in western Montana, this hound bill will result in grizzly bears being chased by hounds. The likely result will be dead grizzly bears as hound hunters defend their dogs from grizzlies. Hound hunting for bears has been outlawed in Montana since 1921.

Incredibly, the new leadership of FWP under Gov. Gianforte endorsed a bill that would prevent relocation of any grizzly bear in any type of conflict outside the recovery zones. This is contrary to 40 years of Montana grizzly management policy, contrary to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee guidelines, and would dramatically increase the number of dead grizzly bears in Montana. There is another bill that would allow anyone to kill any grizzly that they thought was “threatening livestock,” which would essentially allow anyone to kill a grizzly bear just for being in the general vicinity of livestock. Both of these grizzly bills would prevent future delisting of grizzly bears in Montana because of the removal of FWP’s ability to limit the number of grizzly mortalities.

Montana has long been known throughout the West for being a leader in science-based wildlife management and fair chase hunting. With these and other bad laws, the Legislature is rejecting science and sound wildlife management policy and replacing them with anti-predator hysteria driven by emotional hatred of predators.

There is little need to “save” game animals from predators since Montana has abundant big game herds in most of the state. In fact, Montana hunters can currently kill up to three elk per year, and the legislature is considering bills to further liberalize regulations in order to kill more elk.

The Montana Wildlife Federation opposes this anti-predator approach to wildlife management. We also strongly oppose departing from fair chase hunting practices by spotlighting animals at night and chasing bears with hounds. The native wildlife of Montana is too important to allow extreme killing measures like these.

Protecting our Sporting Traditions Through the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

Author: Alec Underwood

There are few places in Montana that emulate the quintessential sporting paradise like the Blackfoot River and the surrounding landscape. Whether you choose to cast to rising westslope cutthroat trout or pursue bulging bull elk with a bow in September, it’s an area that truly has everything that a hunter or angler could wish for.

That’s why there is no shortage of sportsmen and sportswomen, guides, outfitters, and other businesses that support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, legislation that will protect our sporting heritage well into the future. Developed by Montanans for over a dozen years, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project has resulted in major investments in the local community and landscape restoration efforts.

Championed by Senator Jon Tester, the BCSA would honor more than a decade of collaboration between landowners, sportsmen, outfitters, conservation groups, and more. The legislation would permanently protect nearly 80,000 acres of prime fish and wildlife habitat and also further catalyze restoration projects.

Now more than ever, we need hunters and anglers who care about this iconic landscape to use their voice and encourage our elected officials to help get this legislation across the finish line. Take action now to tell our elected officials to help pass the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.


Conservation Funding is Economic Development

Montana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Frank Szollosi issued the following statement on Gov. Gianforte’s State of the State address: 

MWF appreciates working with Governor Greg Gianforte and Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech on the Montana Comeback. Montana hunters and anglers support the HEART Fund and other efforts that increase the resilience of wildlife, habitat and our fellow Montanans.

MWF also appreciates the Governor’s emphasis on increasing Montana’s competitive edge in the region.  To that end, conservation funding is economic development. Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy supports good jobs & businesses. Let’s invest in it together.

“We call on the Governor to increase public access through the numerous measures like Habitat Montana that have broad support among Montanans and are fully paid for by hunters,” said Frank Szollosi, MWF executive director. “We share his goal of promoting economic development, and our outdoor recreation economy is a big part of that. 

“That’s also why we want to see the will of voters, expressed through I 190 last fall, honored by spending the other half of the increased tax dollars from recreational marijuana spent as the people clearly stated they wanted it spent – on our state parks, wildlife and on efforts to preserve our working farms and ranches to benefit longtime Montana agricultural families, hunters, anglers and all Montanans who value open space, wildlife habitat and access.”

MWF Joins Conservation and Business Groups in Support of Much-Needed oil and gas Policy Reform

After years of an unbalanced approach and energy dominance agenda that has ignored conservation and recreation values on federal public lands, MWF is proud to continue our advocacy efforts to support common-sense reform to outdated and wasteful oil and gas leasing practices. In response to President Biden’s signing of an Executive Order that issues a pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, MWF joined Montana Wilderness Association, Friends of the Missouri Breaks, and Business for Montana’s Outdoors to issue the following statement of support:

Business, Conservation, and Hunting and Angling Groups

Applaud Biden’s Pause on Oil and Gas Leasing

Groups say pause is a much-needed opportunity to reform a broken leasing system

Helena, MT – A group of Montana-based business, conservation, and hunting and angling organizations have come together in support of the executive order President Biden is expected to sign today pausing oil and gas leasing on federally managed public lands.

The organizations point to the fact that 65% of all oil and gas leases in Montana, covering 1.2 million acres of public lands, are currently not being used, primarily because there is very little, if any oil and gas potential on public lands in Montana. They also point to the fact that currently there isn’t a single operating oil rig in the state.

“Our current leasing system hasn’t worked for Montana’s diverse economy and communities for a long time,” says Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors. “It makes no economic sense to lease public lands that have no oil and gas potential when land management agencies could instead be looking at how those lands could be used in service of creating more jobs and supporting more businesses that rely on our outdoor recreation economy – driven as it is by hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and other activities that, all in all, generate some $7 billion a year for our state.”

Hayes adds that the pause will not at all restrict funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “That’s an unfounded argument that has no basis in reality, as money for LWCF is funded entirely through currently producing off-shore oil and gas operations – which are unaffected by the pause – not areas that won’t be leased as a result of Biden’s executive order.”

Despite the fact that Montana holds little oil and gas potential, the BLM has not let up on offering hundreds of leases a year at regularly scheduled auctions. During the four years of the Trump administration, 30% of the leases the BLM auctioned off went for the minimum bid of $2 an acre.

Leases that aren’t bid on at the minimum $2 per acre are sold off the shelf for $1.50 an acre – a practice referred to as noncompetitive leasing.  During fiscal year 2018, the BLM sold more than 262,000 acres of public lands in Montana noncompetitively for a $1.50 acre.

Sen. Tester introduced a bill last year, called the Leasing Market Efficiency Act, that would have put an end to noncompetitive leasing.

“The BLM spends millions of dollars every year administering leases that lead to no oil and gas production, no jobs, no royalties, no public benefit,” says Joe Offer, executive director at Friends of the Missouri Breaks. “That’s money and resources the BLM could be spending on habitat improvements, law enforcement, and maintenance of trails, trailheads, fishing access sites, boat ramps, and many other things that are critical for Montanans’ outdoor recreation economy and our way of life.”

The group of Montana-based organizations supporting the leasing pause would like Congress and the administration to use the time to enact new policy and pass laws, such as Sen. Tester’s Leasing Market and Efficiency Act, that would reform the country’s oil and gas leasing system.

“There’s no doubt that our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities have suffered from a broken oil and gas leasing system, which also hurts taxpayers,” said Alec Underwood, federal conservation campaigns director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “A pause on oil and gas leasing will allow for a review of wasteful and outdated policies and ensure our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the jobs it supports, are protected for this and future generations.”

Aubrey Bertram, eastern Montana field director at Montana Wilderness Association, argues that Congress must also update its bonding rates to cover reclamation costs, which haven’t been updated since the 1960s, and update royalty rates paid to local communities from nearby oil and gas production. Taxpayers for Common Sense estimate that Montanans lost out on approximately $56 million in rental revenue on federal oil and gas leases between FY09 and FY18.

“America’s current oil and gas leasing system – the leasing of publicly owned resources to private companies – is working against the American public and only serves Wall Street investors and wildcat speculators,” Bertram says. “We appreciate President Biden giving us a break while we take a hard look at this system so we can move forward with meaningful reforms to protect our Montana way of life.”

Stand up for Habitat Montana

Habitat Montana is our best conservation and access program that benefits landowners, wildlife and public hunters. It protects working farms and ranches with conservation easements that open up thousands of acres of land to public hunting and recreation. 

Now SB 115, sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, would add a layer of government bureaucracy into ranchers’ decision on their private property by requiring state Land Board approval for conservation easements under Habitat Montana. This can kill projects that have taken two years to work out with extensive planning, including for public hunting access. 

Contact members of the Senate Fish and Game Committee and tell them to vote NO on SB 115. Tell them to support landowners’ private property rights, our farming and ranching economy and hunters’ access through the Habitat Montana program. 

PLEASE WRITE YOUR OWN MESSAGE, but hit these points: 

Habitat Montana benefits working farmers and ranchers with working capital to expand their operations, and they have private property rights to do what they want with their land. 

This program improves relations between hunters and landowners, opens up access for hunters, and benefits wildlife management. 

Habitat Montana is working better than it ever has, and there’s no need to add a layer of government bureaucracy to complete good projects that have taken years to work out. 

Please vote no on SB 115 and support Montana’s landowners and hunters. 

Call and leave a message for the Senate Fish and Game Committee at 406-444-4800.

Contact the Senate Fish and Game Committee HERE.

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