It becomes more and more evident every day that Montanans have had their fill of the wildlife conservation experiment gone bad known as the "Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project". Back seven or eight years ago, there were still plenty who supported bringing wolves back into the wilds of this state, and any discussion about wolves often resulted in something of a debate, often getting very heated. On one side, there were those staunch liberal environmentalists who felt the ecosystem needed balanced, by bringing back a major predator. On the other side were those who enjoyed the vast array and abundance of wildlife, along with those who ranched or made their living off the land. They saw no need for a predator as destructive as the wolf. Still, pro-wolf advocates continued to claim that wolves would be good for the environment, making the ecosystem stronger and healthier.
Unfortunately, things have not quite worked out that way. Wolves have not followed the script written for them by academic type new wave wildlife managers and biologists trying to write their own chapters in wildlife management. In fact, growing wolf numbers have had just the opposite effect on wildlife populations. Once great elk herds, like the northern Yellowstone herd, the Lolo herd, the West Fork of the Bitterroot herd, and others are now a mere fraction, maybe 25-percent, or what they were when wolves were first released into the Greater Yellowstone Area. While all the damage cannot be blamed on wolves, with growing numbers of bears and mountain lions also making a severe impact, wolves are the primary reason for the dramatic decline of elk, moose, deer and other big game populations all along the Northern Rockies of Montana.
(Photo Above Left - Federal wildlife biologists work with tranquilized Canadian wolves during the transplant of wolves into the Greater Yellowstone Area.)
With that loss of game, growing and spreading wolf numbers are now turning more and more to livestock, and ranchers are feeling the loss as well. Many elk no longer return to the high country, choosing to live close to smaller communities and ranch sites, where the presence of people reduces the chances of the animals being pursued by packs of wolves. However, that's even failing to make a difference these days. Wolves have followed the game, and are now ever more present in human inhabited areas. Wolf-killed whitetail deer...fresh wolf scat...and 6-inch long wolf tracks have been found and photographed right in or adjacent to the city limits of Missoula. Wolves are now being seen, or felt, in areas where the "experts" who came up with the Wolf Recovery Plan once claimed the wolves would not inhabit. And that has residents more concerned than ever about the safety of their families and pets.
Public opinion polls, conducted the past year or so by television stations and newspapers around the state, reveal that close to 80-percent of Montana's residents now want more stringent wolf control. They want a significant number of wolves eliminated, allowing game numbers to return, and wolf related depredation of livestock lessened. In the same light, they want the fear of wolves showing up in their back yards to be properly addressed by the politicians they elect to office, and they want that concern alleviated.
Most residents of Montana, and in the wolf country of Idaho and Wyoming for that matter, have absolutely no faith in state and federal agencies to resolve the wolf problem. Many are now putting a great deal of pressure on local, county and district politicians to come up with some answers, some solutions.
(Photo Above Right - Wolves are now causing new problems and new concerns as they follow game down into human inhabited valleys.)
Such wants, needs and fears of the public were very evident during Montana's 62nd Legislative sessions this past winter and spring. A number of bills were introduced which addressed wolf and other predator issues, or were strongly tied to predator losses. One dark cloud that hangs over any state taking care of problems created by wolves and grizzly bears is the Endangered Species Act. Both wolves and grizzlies have been federally protected, literally taking the right to manage their numbers away from the state. State politicians who represent the citizens of this state went as far as to introduce a bill that would claim state's rights, and nullify the Endangered Species Act in Montana. That bill passed through the House of Representatives with a 61-39 vote. But this bill, and others which would have worked in the direction of the state taking full charge of managing (or controlling) all predators, endangered or not, in the end did not make the final vote, or were vetoed by the governor.
One bill in particular was drafted solely to authorize stringent control of wolves - S.B. 414, also known as the "Montana Wolf Control Act".
The bill, introduced by MT Senator Chas Vincent (R-Libby), addresses how the 566 wolves claimed to be in Montana by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in 2009 was nothing more than a "minimum estimate" - and that the true number of wolves in the state was believed to be far greater. S.B. 414 also points out... "wolves have had and are having an unacceptable negative impact on game herds, hunting opportunities, livestock production, the health and safety of people engaged in outdoor work and recreation in Montana, and the Montana economy." The legislation goes on to establish that..."the United States is responsible for injuries caused by federally released wolves in Montana, including but not limited to the loss of game animals, livestock, or pets, other injuries to animals, injuries to persons working or recreating in the state, and economic injuries to the people of the state.
During the first House reading of this bill, 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".
(Photo Above Left - Montana sportsmen Keith Steigers has been hunting the Northern Rockies for more than 65-years, and shares his wolf depredation concerns with two young Montana State University wildlife management students.)
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 which of those members of the House 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).
<btr>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 reading of the bill, 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).
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 last reading, just three of these representatives stayed true to the wishes of their constituents - Kelly Flynn, Mike Milburn and Sterling Small. The other 10 found reason, personal or otherwise, to go back to their original "Nay" vote.
Many of these politicians will be running for re-election in November 2012. It's a good bet that those sportsmen, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts who have been negatively impacted by wildlife losses to wolves will remember who voted against their wishes when it's time to mark the ballot.
One race which could be dictated by the 2012 "Wolf Ticket" will be the election of a new governor. Many Montana residents feel our current governor has done little to tackle the issue. To many, it seems as if he runs scared of the federal government, afraid they will cut off funding for this or that should the state stand its ground and proclaim... "No More!" That's especially true when the topic turns to wolves, and strong wolf control.
The sportsmen of Montana have lost all faith in Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Over and over again, sportsmen and sportsmen organizations have caught the agency downright lying about wolf numbers and the degree of damage wolves have dealt wildlife populations. One recent example is the way FWP commented to the state's media how the opening weekend of the 2011 general elk and deer season was about on par with the "past 5 year average". Strangely enough, in 2009, it was acknowledged that the harvest in Region 2 was down 45- to 50-percent from that same 5 year average. Until last year (2010), "opening weekend" was simply just the first Sunday, since the season opened on Sunday. Now, the agency is comparing hunter take to a two-day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and the best they can claim is that it is "about on par" with the past 5 year average.
(Photo Above Right - The wasteful killing of game animals by wolves, nearly half of which they do not eat, has destroyed big game populations in much of western Montana - in turn there has been a dramatic loss of hunting opportunities.)
It is this kind of smoke and mirrors cover up which leads the sportsmen who provide the financial support for MT FWP to realize that the agency is no longer being straight forward with them. A growing number of those who spend a great deal of time in the outdoors have grown increasingly disgusted in the manner in which FWP tends to ignore what hunters, fishermen and other outdoor recreationalists tell them about what they see - and don't see. What they're seeing are far more wolves, far more wolf sign, and far more dead wildlife due to wolf depredation. What they are not seeing are the record numbers of elk and other game which MT FWP keeps touting.
Governor Brian Schweitzer has final say so in FWP policy. If the cover up of wolf depredation and the true number of wolves in the state is now standard FWP operating procedure, then the governor is behind it 100-percent.
What many Montana sportsmen do not know is that MT FWP has become an active participant in an extremely radical environmental project - known as "The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative". This pipedream, by a long list of environmental groups and organizations, is to establish a near humanless corridor running from the Greater Yellowstone Area, up through most of western Montana and northern Idaho, across southern Canada, all the way to the Arctic regions of the Yukon Territories. Those who reside inside the planned corridor would be forced off the land; infrastructure, such as highways, bridges, and cities would be removed; plus access and human use of this corridor would be extremely restricted. The list of "collaborators" includes not only MT FWP, but also the University of Montana - Missoula and Montana State University - Bozeman. Both of these institutes of higher learning are well known for their education of future wildlife managers and biologists - who are trying to rewrite wildlife conservation.
(Map Above - The light shaded area runnng diagonally from western Wyoming up to north- central Yukon Territories represents the "Yellowstone to Yukon" corridor, which environmentalists are trying to turn into a region that is not inhabited by humans, a corridor especially for the movement of large predators.)
Also on that list of "collaborators" are extreme anti-hunting organizations, such as the Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and the Natural Resources Council. Another collaborator is the Wildlands Network, which has set its goal to return nearly 50-percent of the U.S. back to human free wilderness areas and "wildlands" corridors.
Coalitions between state agencies and such radical organizations should throw up red flags for the residents of the Northern Rockies. Perhaps some elected officials can't foresee a problem, but the sportsmen who have footed the bill to finance the past 75 years of very successful wildlife conservation in Montana, and every other state, should question the motives of public servants and state agencies when they work hand in hand with those who are working to put an end to the hunting heritage of a state. That is especially true when said agency comes under the directives of the governor.
In Montana, there is now a growing resentment towards MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and towards the current governor. The 2012 gubernatorial race will very much be a "Wolf Ticket", as will be the battle to win any other seat in office. Those who have supported wildlife conservation programs in Montana have grown weary of the idiocy behind the wolf introduction, and those who are now apparently working to destroy the state's once strong outdoor based economy.
Two 2012 gubernatorial candidates have taken a strong "wolf control" platform, and both have publicly stated that overhauling MT FWP should, and would, become a priority. One is Ken Miller, of Laurel, MT. During an exchange of communications with LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges earlier this year, Miller agreed that FWP was severely broken, and that it would take a tremendous revamping to turn the agency around, to get it back on track - and that is to serve those who have supported FWP since its inception. Back in February and March, Ken Miller was pretty opinionated about the need for more stringent wolf control, but in recent months the candidate vying for the Republican slot on the ballot has quieted down considerably.
The most open candidate on wolves has been Tea Party runner Robert Fanning, of Pray, MT. (Center in above right photo.) He is the founder and c.e.o. of Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, and has lived first hand with the destruction wolves bring to big game herds. Fanning and his group have chronicled the constant decline of the once famous elk herd, which was recognized as the largest migratory elk herd in the world - before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unleashed non-native Canadian wolves on America's wildlife wonderland. His "Wolf Ticket" bid is to force state control of wolves and other predators, to completely overhaul Montana's wildlife agency, and to move a totally revamped MT Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks under the legislative branch rather than the executive branch of state government.
Roughly, one year from now Montana voters will be casting ballots for the candidates of their choice. Now is the time to determine who will best address your needs, and who will best represent the Montana lifestyle. Whether running for governor, state senator or state representative, every candidate will make the same old campaign promises - to attract new jobs and to insure better education for our children. Just as importantly, we need to elect those ready and willing to fight for our way of life, even if it means standing up to the federal government. If they can do that, the employment and education opportunities will be there. If they can't, there is not much hope that things will ever get any better. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
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