New Montana Legislation SB397 Looks To Establish Provisional Hunting Seasons To Reduce Predator Numbers
No where in the text of Senate Bill 397 will you find the word “emergency”. Still, taking care of a somewhat “natural disaster” is what this bill is truly all about. The newly drafted legislation, which is headed for a Senate Fish and Game Committee hearing this week, would establish provisional hunting seasons, hunt areas and hunting regulations which are aimed at accomplishing two things. First, if enacted, this bill would greatly reduce the number of wolves, bears and mountain lions roaming much of Western Montana. Second, to do so would greatly reduce the loss of elk, moose, deer and other big game to a gross over population of these apex predators.
Sportsmen who have grown weary of watching once great elk herds, pockets of moose, and an abundance of deer dwindle away over the past fifteen years, while predator populations have steadily grown, are now pointing the finger of blame at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The very same agency which has been mandated by the Montana Constitution to insure an abundance of game seems to have chosen to insure greater predator populations over huntable numbers of prey game species. Throughout most of Western Montana, elk herds are barely 20-percent of what they were twenty years ago, moose have totally disappeared in many areas where they once thrived, and now deer populations
Wolf, bear and lion depredation has clearly taken its toll on big game herds, resulting in the tremendous loss of big game hunting opportunities for Montana residents. The goal of SB397 is to reverse that trend.
Robert Fanning, founder of the group known as Friends of The Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, has watched that herd implode from more than 20,000 elk, before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduction of a non-native gray wolf subspecies from central Alberta in 1995 and 1996, to fewer than 4,000 today. That loss can all be directly tied to excessive predator numbers.
He says, “Hunting in Montana , which was described in a USFWS 2001 study, used to be a $237.6 million industry and the number one hunting culture in all 50 states, has been harmed by extreme predator densities. SB 397 is an attempt at fairness and equity in broadening the menu of huntable animals, raising the probability of hunter success and addressing predator control within the parameters of existing Montana Code Annotated.”
MT FWP has long been criticized for enforcing methods of take that are far too restrictive to permit hunters to take sufficient numbers of wolves, mountain lions and bears. Likewise, inadequate limits or quotas have hampered sufficient harvests of these predators, insuring that come the next birthing season there would be still more predators putting even more pressure and greater negative impact on other wildlife resources.
Introduced by Montana State Senator Scott Boulanger (R-Darby), SB397 calls for changes which would establish provisional predator seasons in those hunt districts which have seen elk and other big game populations fall well below objective levels, resulting in far fewer hunting licenses now issued, along with more restrictive hunting regulations. These are the units, or districts, which have been impacted the hardest by too many wolves, too many lions and too many bears. In order to sufficiently reduce predator populations, allowing big game numbers to rebound, this bill eliminates many of the FWP methods of take restrictions which have prevented hunters from properly controlling predators. This legislation also significantly reduces the costs of non-resident licenses for hunting these predators, pretty much eliminates quotas, expands limits, and calls for extremely long seasons – in the affected hunt districts only. The purpose of these provisional hunts is to make a dramatic reduction in predator populations.
Keith Kubista, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife says, “It is very encouraging to see a legislator who understands the predator prey relationship and negative effects of past failed predator policy. Senator Scott Boulanger has created a solution to recover ungulates and ultimately restore big game hunting opportunities by introducing Senate Bill 397. All legitimate sportsmen and organizations should be beating down the doors of the Capitol and attend the Senate Fish and Game Committee hearing on Tuesday 3-26 in room 422 to testify in support of SB 397. Senator Boulanger has an extensive hunting history, involvement in the Bitteroot elk working group and other activities that enabled him to formulate a mechanism, SB 397, that will finally turn things around for the hunting community.”
More specifically, within the designated provisional hunt areas, SB397 would allow hunters to use bear hunting scents, and would permit baiting for bears. The bill would also legalize bear hunting with dogs during the spring season, and during these hunts during a provisional season, hunters would not be required to keep the meat from a bear, just the head and hide. Hunters taking a lion in districts designated as a provisional hunt unit would not be required to purchase a trophy license to possess and transport a lion harvested. During the wolf hunts in these districts, trapping would also be allowed, including the use of snares. The proposed provisional wolf hunting and trapping season would run from September 1 to June 30. The cost of a non-resident wolf, bear or lion tag for hunting the provisional hunt areas would be reduced to $50 each.
Other provisions in the bill call for the closing of the wolf season should the statewide population fall below 200. It also establishes the cost of a bear baiting permit and for a permit to run dogs for bear and lion. The text of SB397 also lays out the parameters for the hunting of grizzly bears, which contribute greatly to the extreme losses of elk calves every spring and summer, destroying the recruitment of future generations of elk. Montana sportsmen now fully realize it has been the “Perfect Storm” of predator impact, from wolves, lions and bears which has resulted in the devastation of big game herds in Western Montana. While grizzlies make a much greater impact on game populations, especially the young of the year, black bears also take a high number of elk and moose calves, and deer fawns.
“Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has failed miserably when it comes to controlling predator numbers in this state. The agency has put way too much emphasis on managing for these predators as ‘big game’, and has totally forsaken the ‘big game’ species for which sportsmen buy the vast majority of licenses to hunt – namely elk and deer. This has resulted in hunters buying fewer licenses, which means less funding for FWP. The loss of the once thriving elk herds up and down the Western one-third of this state, along with a severe drop in deer numbers, all due to predator impact, is now costing the State’s economy more than a hundred million dollars annually. Most impacted are the small communities where game numbers have been hardest hit, where FWP’s ‘management’ of major predators has literally destroyed what were once some of the greatest game herds in America. Before that agency can ‘manage’ predators, it first must gain control of predator populations…and we’re now years from ever accomplishing that. Emergency measures must be taken right now, or we will see the total loss of elk, moose and deer in much of Montana. The only hope we have of saving the remnant populations of these great game animals is to first dramatically reduce predator numbers. Passage of Senate Bill 397 would truly be the first step in the right direction toward rebuilding these wildlife resources,” comments Toby Bridges of LOBO WATCH
The end of the recent 2012 wolf season stands as testimony to the failure of MT FWP truly taking charge or control of the predator situation – and once again the agency is falsely claiming the hunt to be a “success”. A total of 225 wolves were taken between September 1, 2012 and February 28, 2013. Hunters took 128 wolves, and trappers accounted for 97 wolves.
Had certain methods of take been relaxed by the FWP Commission last spring, the wolf harvest could have been significantly higher. At Commission meetings, and regional FWP meetings around the state, concerned sportsmen repeatedly shared that it would take the legalization of snares during the new wolf trapping season to make any real impact on wolf numbers. The Commission ignored that input and ruled snares illegal. Many other sportsmen attending those meetings also said that electronic game callers needed to be allowed. The Commission agreed, but it took the passage of House Bill 73 more than six months later, just two weeks before the end of the season, before such callers could be used. Had snares and electronic calls been allowed during the entire season, the wolf harvest could have been significantly higher, maybe closer to 325 to 350 wolves. Since EACH wolf is now known to kill close to 50 big game animals annually, that additional harvest could have saved 5,000 to 6,000 elk, moose, deer and other big game species from being lost to just one species of predator – the gray wolf.
One questionable sportsman group which has already announced that it will oppose SB397 is the somewhat shady Montana Sportsmen Alliance. The group is a sportsman “organization” by name alone. In reality, it has simply been a political activist front for Senator Jon Tester. This is the group which ran all of those negative attack ads against Denny Rehberg during his run for Tester’s seat in the U.S. Senate during the 2012 elections. Altogether, Montana Sportsmen Alliance spent more than a million dollars to insure that Tester held onto his Senate seat – a million dollars of non-disclosed funding. Much of that funding likely came from environmental groups, which tend to favor expanded predator populations and fewer hunting opportunities for Montana’s true sportsmen.
Another spurious sportsmen organization expected to oppose SB397 is the so-called Montana Hunters & Anglers Action, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. This group tends to be little more than a facade of a sportsman based organization for the Montana Wildlife Federation. One of the founders of this bogus sportsman group is Land Tawney, of Missoula – who just also happens to be a Senior Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, working out of the organization’s Missoula regional office. Montana Wildlife Federation is simply a state chapter of the National organization, which is a major proponent of expanding the numbers and range of wolves and grizzly bears.
MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks is often accused of working way too closely with these groups, which do not represent the wants and needs of the state’s sportsmen. Nor has the state wildlife agency really placed any priority on ever taking control of the predator problem. Senate Bill 397 would establish that priority for FWP, concentrating on the needed reduction of wolves, bears and lions in order to halt the continued decline of big game populations, and begin the recovery of wildlife in those hunt districts which are now in dire need of emergency measures. The provisional seasons and less restrictive regulations governing these hunts may be the only salvation for bringing back huntable numbers of big game throughout most of Western Montana.
On Tuesday, March 26, SB397 is scheduled to be scrutinized at a Senate Fish and Game Committee hearing at the State Capitol in Helena. A large turnout of both proponents for and opponents of the bill are expected to be on hand to testify. Things could get more than a little heated. Hanging in the balance of whether SB397 passes or not is very likely the future of big game hunting in Montana.
SB 397 will be heard in the Senate Fish and Game Committee hearings on Tuesday afternoon, March 26, Room 422 in the State Capitol Building, at 3 PM.
LOBO WATCH encourages all sportsmen who can attend to make every effort to be on hand to testify in favor of this legislation…even if you only walk up to the microphone and state your name and place of residence and say…”I’m tired of the continued loss of Montana’s big game, I am in favor of more stringent predator control, and I’m for SB397 and the emergency provisional hunts and regulations!”
The enemies of sportsmen and the Montana outdoor way of life will be there to shoot this control measure down…and there must be a force on hand to shoot down their efforts to allow the destruction of wildlife resources to continue…and to discredit their goals and agenda. – Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
Following Are Members Of The Senate Fish and Game Committee…if you cannot attend the hearing in Helena…go to their on-line message form and let them know how you feel. Google “Montana Legislature”… Then click on “Contact a Legislator”
John Brenden (R-Scobey) ; Rick Ripley (R-Wolf Creek); Debby Barrett (R-Dillon); Tom Facey (D-Missoula); Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls); Bradley Hamlett (D-Cascade); Larry Jent (D-Bozeman); Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo); Fred Thomas (R-Stevensville); Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings)
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(Release by Toby Bridges of Lobo Watch)