Editorial News/Press Release
April 21, 2011

Politics As Usual During Montana's 62nd Legislature - Especially When Concerning Wolves

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Montana enjoys one of the highest percentages of the overall state population being active hunters, maybe even a higher percentage than any other state in the country. And any issue that negatively affects that annual rite of passage for hunters to head for the mountains, plains and valleys to put in a winter meat supply is generally met with fierce resistance and opposition. The damage wolves have dealt, and continue to deal, big game resources in this state has definitely been one of the most explosive issues to ever fire up sportsmen, and those who just enjoy seeing an abundance of elk, moose, deer and other large game animals.

Next door in Idaho, big game populations have taken the same beating from wolves, and like in neighboring Montana, elk herds that once numbered into the thousands are now seeing populations that are dipping into the hundreds. In Idaho, one of the hardest hit herds has been the famed Lolo Unit herd, which 10 to 12 years ago numbered 12,000 plus. Today, that herd is at about 1,200. In both Montana and Idaho, many herds have been pulled down by 70- to 80-percent. And the primary cause has been excessive wolf depredation, and the loss of calf fetuses aborted due to the continuous stress those wolves put on pregnant cows. Calf recruitment in these areas has been near "0" for the past four or five years.

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Earlier this week, Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter signed a momentous bill into law - H. 343, also known as the Idaho Wolf Emergency Declaration. This legislation empowers the governor to declare a state of emergency and take the necessary action to eliminate local or regional wolf populations when they pose a serious threat to other wildlife populations, to ranching or become a physical or health threat to humans. What this new law tells the federal government is that the state of Idaho, when necessary, will takes steps to control the negative impact wolves have on all other living things - whether those wolves are on the endangered species list or not. The bill passed through both the House and Senate in just three days.

A somewhat similar bill in Montana, S.B. 414, also known as the Montana Wolf Control Act, has encountered a considerably more bumpy roller-coaster ride. During the first House reading of this bill, sponsored by MT Senator Chas Vincent (R-Libby), on April 12 it was defeated by the narrow vote of 49 "Yeas" and 51 "Nays". This so irritated those already angered over the unnecessary devastation of wildlife and damage to the state's livestock industry, that those legislators who voted against the bill were inundated by e-mails, electronic messages and phone calls, and on April 13 the House held a reconsideration vote. This time S.B. 414 received 62 "Yeas" and 38 "Nays". However, when it went to the next reading, the vote narrowed to 53 "Yeas" to 47 "Nays".

During the final reading, the Montana Wolf Control Act failed to make the grade - losing to a vote with 54 against the bill and 45 for the bill, with one vote excused.

When time is taken to analyze how the different state representatives voted on this bill, it's easy to determine those members of the House which are totally out of touch with the wants and needs of an extremely outdoor oriented populace. Those who voted against S.B. 414 straight across the board in all four votes were MT State Representatives: Dick Barrett (D- Missoula); Tony Belcourt (D-Box Elder); Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula); Carlie Boland (D-Great Falls); Pat Connell (R-Hamilton); Virginia Court (D-Billings); Robyn Driscoll (D-Billings); Ron Ehli (R- Hamilton); Tim Furey (D-Milltown); Steve Gibson (R-E. Helena); Edward Greef (R-Florence); Betsy Hands (D-Missoula); Ellie Boldman Hill (D-Missoula); Cynthia Hiner (D-Deer Lodge); Brian Hoven (R- Great Falls); Chuck Hunter (D-Helena); Margaret MacDonald (D-Billings); Gary MacLaren (R-Victor); Sue Malek (D-Missoula); Bill McChesney (D-Miles City); Edith McClafferty (D-Butte); Mary McNally (D-Billings); Robert Mehlhoff (D-Great Falls); Mike Menahan (D-Helena); Pat Noonan (D-Ramsay); Mike Phillips (D-Bozeman); Jean price (D-Great Falls); Michelle Reinhart (D-Missoula); Diane Sands (D-Missoula); Trudi Schmidt (D-Great Falls); Jon Sesso (D-Butte); Frank Smith (D-Poplar); Carolyn Squires (D-Missoula); Kathleen Williams (D-Bozeman); and Franke Wilmer (D-Bozeman).

The 36 Representatives who voted "Nay" with every vote on S.B. 414 included 30 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

When pressured by their constituents to reconsider their "Nay" votes during the first read of the bill by the MT House of Representatives, the following 13 legislators changed their votes to "Yea": Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip); Liz Bangerter (R-Helena); Rob Cook (R-Conrad); Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls); Kelly Flynn (R-Townsend); Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena); Walter McNut (R-Sidney); Mike Milburn (R-Cascade); Mike Miller (R-Helmville); Ken Peterson (R-Billings); Sterling Small (R-Busby); Wayne Stahl (R-Saco); and Max Yates (R-Butte).

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Of those 13 who felt the wrath of the citizens they represent, and changed their vote in support of S.B. 414, 12 were Republican, and only 1 was a Democrat. However, when it came down to the final vote on this bill, during the Third Reading, just three of these representatives stayed true to the wishes of their constituents - Kelly Flynn, Mike Milburn and Sterling Small.

The other 10 sold out.

If any of those 10 are your representative, or if any of the three dozen who voted against this bill from the get go, who are supposed to represent the interest of sportsmen, ranchers and rural residents of Montana speak for you, when it comes to taking honest control of the wolf issue - you've been cheated.

In comparison, Idaho's Wolf Emergency Declaration (H.B. 343) passed with a 64-5 vote, with one legislator excused. Those voting against the measure that places the state in position to put an immediate halt to wolf threats were Representatives Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise); Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise); Wendy Jaquet (D-Ketchum); Phylis King (D-Boise), and Shirley Ringo (D- Moscow). The bill was sponsored by Idaho State Representative Judy Boyle (R-Midvale).

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Montana state Senator Joe Balyeat recently put together a rundown of the real costs of having wolves in this state, especially at the elevated population levels that have been forced upon the residents of Montana, and when all factors, including the monetary value of the tens of thousands of elk, moose and deer lost annually, the impact on ranching, the economic losses due to lost hunting opportunities, the loss of tourist business in major hunting and wildlife viewing areas, the added costs of living with wolves, and the cost of preventative measures to reduce the impact of wolf depredation are all added up - the total surpasses $120,000,000 annually. And that is in Montana alone.

Maybe that loss doesn't mean much to the likes of Representative Mike Phillips, of Bozeman...or Representative Tim Furey, of Milltown...or Carolyn Squires, of Missoula...or Trudi Schmidt, of Great Falls. Likewise, it may not mean much to the other 50 state representatives who killed the Montana Wolf Control Act. And it might not mean that much to the 20 Montana senators who voted against S.B. 414 before it advanced to the House, nor to Governor Brian Schweitzer who has bragged that he will "VETO" any bill which challenges the U.S. Government.

But the Montana Wolf Control Act was important to all of those who have grown tired of waiting for state and federal government to do the right thing - and stop the destruction of wildlife resources that have taken several generations to rebuild from the all time lows of the early 1900s - and the damage wolves are dealing this state's ranching economy. This release is a warning shot across the bow of those state legislators who think it is still business as usual, and who feel that no one is really watching and paying attention. Those days are gone. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH


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