In the People's Interest

Montana Legislature’s assaults on wolves, grizzlies


Decades ago, while listening to Flathead Radio “star” George Ostrom, I heard him say, “Well, the Montana Legislature is in session, and for the next 90 days no man’s life or property are safe.” The 2021 Republicans in the Legislature, in total control for the first time in 16 years, and with a Republican governor to boot, seemed intent on proving Ostrom right on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at their descent into lunacy:

Like many outdoor recreation communities, Whitefish has been having trouble providing affordable housing for employees with modest incomes. So, Whitefish passed a law requiring developers to have a certain percent of units be affordable housing. Although they claim to love “local control,” Republicans killed that fast because it would place undue burdens on developers. The bill was introduced by a developer.

As the pandemic raged, several county health boards passed mask mandates and limits on gathering size to control disease spread. Once more, Republicans “deep-sixed” this local control, giving the authority to all those medical experts on county commissions. What could possibly go wrong removing health boards during a pandemic, and putting anti-science know-nothings in charge?
On the wildlife front, Republicans were intent on doubling down on blatantly anti-conservation, anti-science assaults on wolves and grizzlies: Wolves: House Bill 225 adds a month to the wolf trapping season and prohibits closing areas next to national parks. Who doesn’t favor killing national park wolves? HB 224 allows snaring (strangulation) of wolves — or dogs, bears, your kids. Senate Bill 267 authorizes reimbursement for wolf killing — a bounty — right out of 1850. SB 314 would reduce wolves to “sustainable levels; allow unlimited killing on one license; baiting and night hunting of wolves with lights or night scopes.” I’m sure no deer or elk poachers will take advantage of that. These measures could kill more than 900 wolves and guarantee their relisting as a threatened species.

These measures were passed on behalf of wolf haters and trappers, although Montana’s 5,000 trappers have negligible economic impact, while Yellowstone wolves alone bring in more than $15 million annually to the regional economy.

Grizzlies: HB 468 allows hound hunting and chase in spring season for black bears to train dogs. So, how do you tell the dogs not to chase protected grizzlies, or females with cubs of the year? SB 337 says Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks can respond to grizzlies “causing conflict outside of a federal recovery zone” but can’t relocate the bear. Translation: more dead grizzlies. SB 98 says that grizzlies “seen threatening livestock” can be killed. What rancher seeing a grizzly in the same zip code doesn’t think it’s threatening their livestock? This regulation violates federal law and guarantees grizzlies can never be delisted from the Endangered Species Act because there will be “inadequate regulatory mechanisms” to protect them.

How does nonsense like this find its way into law? Simple. In the last election, a significant majority of Montanans went to the polls, voted for everyone with an (R) after their name and voila, we get a Legislature chock-full of clueless anti-regulation, anti-government, anti-wildlife zealots. If you’re one of those voters, you’re as much to blame as the legislative loons who passed it. Your actions, and elections, have consequences. You might want to think about that, and what you’ve caused, before the 2022 elections roll around.

Brian Peck is an independent wildlife consultant who lives in Columbia Falls.
Missoulian Guest Editorial 5/10/21

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