Public Comment Needed on Wolf Season Bills

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will be setting the seasons for wolf hunting and trapping for next year, and public comment is needed on how it implements a slate of bills pushing for aggressive measures to kill more wolves.

The 2021 Legislature passed three bills that ignored science and simply aim to kill more wolves. They included HB 224, HB 225 and SB 314. Collectively they call for snaring, extended trapping seasons, night hunting, baiting and taking multiple wolves on one license.

But these bills also give the Commission discretion in how they’re implemented. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists gave a proposal to the Commission this month that acknowledges the science and would lessen the impacts of these extreme anti-wolf measures. They include allowing snares only on private lands, looking at regional differences in setting season dates, and holding a Commission review of seasons once the harvest reaches 450 wolves, with reviews for every 50 wolves killed after that.

Baiting of wolves near traps is a major concern, because it will certainly draw other native carnivores near them including threatened and endangered species like lynx and grizzly bears.

The Montana Wildlife Federation supports ethical, fair chase hunting and trapping of wolves and management based on the best available science, not emotions and local politics. The legislation that passed – and signed into law by the Governor – are neither ethical nor constitute fair chase. Montana’s wolf seasons were working well, and we had strong participation and good success among wolf hunters.

We are calling on the public to comment on these seasons. Make your voice heard. This is your wildlife, and your Fish and Wildlife Commission.

You can submit comments by emailing the Commission at fwcomm@mt.gov, and you can find your commissioner and contact information by going to https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/commission.

2021 Legislature attacks on wildlife, habitat and public access

Hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreationists had the toughest legislative session in over two decades this year.

The 2021 Montana Legislature included numerous bills that worked to put into state law elk management, restrict public access to public lands, curtail land conservation efforts, and write special hunting seasons into law. It was the most difficult session in over two decades, and many bad bills passed.

Still, through hard work, we were able to beat back some of the worst bills. It took a broad coalition of sporting and outdoors advocates to kill these bills, through heavy engagement by hunters, anglers, and other outdoors enthusiasts.

The Montana Wildlife Federation is thankful to our members, volunteers, and conservation partners who all rallied to make their collective voice heard. It was especially important this session when public participation was far more limited because of the Covid 19 pandemic. Our Legislative Action Team was vital to getting the public engaged in the process, and we’re working to build on that effort.

We’re working to learn from this session, develop a proactive conservation agenda and we are asking the advocates we partnered with to continue with us as we engage the Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Gianforte Administration, as well as prepare for the 2023 Legislature. We must continue to develop our broad coalition of conservationists to advance positive policies that benefit our public wildlife, habitat, and access. Several of these bad bills are likely to come back, and we need to be prepared.

Here is the complete list of the dozens of bills that came forward this session, both good and bad.

 

MWF thanks Gov. Gianforte for veto of SB 306

The Montana Wildlife Federation thanks Gov. Gianforte for vetoing SB 306, a bill that would have required that three of the seven Fish and Wildlife Commission members be landowners in agricultural production.

“This bill would have thrown off balance the management of our public trust fish and wildlife resources. Montana deserves broad representation for everyone who values these incredible resources,” said Tom Puchlerz, MWF board president. “Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks always consider landowners in every decision, but giving them such a large block on this commission without any designated seats for hunters and anglers was bad policy that would have changed longstanding Montana management to provide public sporting opportunities.”

SB 306, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, followed another bill that expanded the commission from five to seven members, with one from each of the seven FWP administrative regions. MWF supported HB 163 because we saw it as a way to provide better representation for all Montanans throughout the state.

But SB 306’s mandate that three of those are agricultural producers was problematic. Gov. Gianforte in his veto letter stated that many farmers and ranchers manage their operations through a Limited Liability Company, and therefore might not be considered a landowner who qualifies to serve under the bill. He also wrote that while he supported the intent, the bill’s language of four potential types of agricultural production could be interpreted to require that a landowner conduct all of them. That too would limit whom a governor could choose to serve on the body, he said.

MWF is always looking to work with our friends in the agricultural community to find solutions to the complex issues around fish and wildlife management and believes that every commissioner should consider all interests in making decisions.

Please consider sending the governor a thank you for vetoing this bad bill.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Kyle Moon.

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For decades, the Montana Wildlife Federation has been a leading voice for protecting and enhancing our public wildlife, lands, and access at the Montana Legislature. Your feedback will help us ensure that we continue to improve upon our efforts to protect and enhance issues that affect wildlife, habitat, and access for sportswomen and sportsmen, and recreationists.

Gov. Gianforte Signs Outfitter License Bill HB 637

Gov. Gianforte signed HB 637 today, a bill that was amended in the final days of the Legislative session to include unlimited outfitter-sponsored nonresident big game licenses for this year and permanently skews the preference point system.

This bill was so riddled with problems to begin with, and was put forward by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It included spending $1 million on pheasant stocking, removing a 24-hour waiting period for black bear and mountain lions, and removing a required hound handler license for nonresident landowners.

But in the second to last day of the session, bill sponsor Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, brought an amendment requested by outfitters that completely changed the nature of the bill. It was clearly a special interest exerting influence over the allocation of nonresident licenses to benefit their businesses, a concept that had been rejected earlier in the session after strong opposition from public hunters. That came forward in SB 143, sponsored by Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, which had allocated 60 percent of all nonresident big game licenses as outfitter sponsored.

HB 637 wasn’t identical, but it still permanently gives hunters choosing to use the services of an outfitter a big leg up to draw coveted B-10 and B-11 combination licenses. This is counter to the notion that everyone should have an equal opportunity to hunt in Montana, and flies in the face of Montana voters who outlawed special treatment for wealthy, out-of-state tags.

Numerous sporting organizations spoke out against SB 143, with thousands of comments against it. But HB 637, with the last-minute changes, gave public hunters little opportunity to speak out. Hunters did flood the governor’s office requesting that he veto the bill.

We will now look at ways in the 2023 Legislature to rectify the changes to the preference point system that HB 637 instituted to restore equal opportunity for nonresident hunters.

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Alec Underwood

Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking. 

alec@mtwf.org