MT FWP Abandons Its State Legislated Mandate To Insure Abundant Wildlife
February 27. 2012
Has FWP Lost Its Way?
Senator Greg Hinkle, SD7
Thompson Falls, MT
Recently there have been news accounts of MT FWP having a shortfall in funding due to a decrease in tag and license sales. FWP may attempt to ask the legislature for general fund money in addition to raising tag and license fees for Montana residents. My question is; how did they get into this dilemma?
First off, I think that FWP may have wandered away from the Constitutional mandate they are charged with upholding. Article IX, Section 7 of the Montana Constitution states, "Preservation of harvest heritage. The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights." Notice the term "wild game animals". This term is defined in statute: MCA 87-2-101 (4) "Game animals" means deer, elk, moose, antelope, caribou, mountain sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, bear, and wild buffalo. Notice there is no provision for the wolf. The Constitutional mandate is clear, FWP's first priority is management for the game animals specifically listed.
The decline of elk, deer and moose numbers in various areas around the state is due, in large part, to predation by wolves and lions. In a feeble effort to manage the burgeoning predator issue FWP and the Commission decided on a wolf harvest quota of 220. I was told by FWP Director Joe Maurier before the session ended that the quota would be around 200 or more. I mentioned to him at the time there would be no way they would meet that quota with the current hunting restrictions. My prediction proved to be true with a harvest of only 166, or 75% of the quota. I suggested to the Director that the trappers of the state should be used to help meet the quota. That never happened, but I will wager it will sometime in the future. Why? The reason is that wolf populations will never be controlled by current hunting methods and restrictions. I base this from personal experience. For more than 50 years I have been a dedicated predator hunter, predominately coyotes. This past year I bought a wolf tag and it did not take long for me to figure out that hunting the wolf is a different ball game. They are difficult to hunt and it will take additional methods to control the numbers.
I think the Commission and FWP made the wrong decision not to extend the season to meet the quota. In my estimation, that sends a message to the deer and elk hunters of the state; that FWP is not primarily focused on its Constitutional mandate of managing for game animals as required by law.
Another reason why FWP is short on funds is the result of I-161, the voter passed initiative that raised non-resident license fees. The rule of unintended ( or maybe intended?) consequences was that many non-residents were priced out of hunting in Montana and they are now going to other states. Non-resident hunters brought millions of dollars into the state not only from license and tag fees but to motels, restaurants, gas stations, grocery outlets and outfitters. Now FWP suggests raising resident fees to make up the difference? If the funds continue to decline for FWP, as I believe they will, the needed management for game will suffer greatly. Game populations and hunting opportunities will spiral downward. Does this fit within the anti-hunting agenda of radical environmentalists? I'll let you decide the answer to that question.
The sportsmen and women of Montana ought to take a long hard look at who they support for governor because that choice will have a major impact on the upper management of FWP. If not, the funding for FWP will dive as more and more people elect to not purchase a deer or elk tag. Hunting opportunities will diminish, and the fight for our Second Amendment rights will intensify. I think you understand the seriousness of the issues.