By Michael Howell
The County Commissioners adopted a large predator policy on Monday, March 5, as a guide in coordinating with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the state agency that actually manages the predators including wolves, mountain lions and bears. The policy outlines in some detail the county’s preferred actions for managing the predators in the interest of public health and safety and for the benefit of the large ungulate populations which they prey upon.
Although the policy outlines some specific recommendations concerning the management of wolves, mountain lions and bears, there is no question that it is the growing population of wolves in the valley that has dominated public discussion on the issue and is driving the formation of a policy. The policy is the outcome of several public meetings conducted over the last several months. Attendance at Monday’s meeting was modest compared to some of the past meetings. The commissioners also received lots of written correspondence on the issue.
While some of the recommendations made in the policy are aimed at issues that FWP could adopt, such as extending the hunting season, or adjusting quotas, other recommendations fall outside FWP jurisdiction and would take legislative action to implement, such as changes in licensing requirements and the recommendation to allow trapping, snaring and baiting.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher said the commission recognizes that some of its recommendations could simply be implemented by FWP and others could not because state law would have to change first. He said the aim was to set a policy and then use it to advocate for the changes with whatever agency or legislative body that can make the changes.
Critics of FWP management practices note that the agency’s wolf hunting regulations have not been effective in reducing the numbers of wolves. FWP reported recently that despite the latest wolf hunting season the population increased by 15. They are also critical of FWP’s elk management practices. Although the agency tries to increase elk numbers through restrictive hunting regulations, the commissioners’ new policy states that when hunting can’t be restricted any further then it’s time to reduce the predator load.
The new policy offers a number of suggestions for doing that. Some of those suggested policies for wolves include selling over the counter tags, increasing quotas, allowing trapping and snaring, and structuring fees, seasons and regulations to promote and encourage a more successful wolf hunt and providing local livestock producers with the equipment to track radio collared wolves in their vicinity. Similar recommendations concerning over the counter tags, fee reductions and increased quotas are made concerning the management of lions and bears.
Several people spoke in support of the policies. Keith Kubista, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, praised the commissioners’ efforts. He stated that wolves do not have the same resource or cultural value as “legitimate” big game species. He was especially critical of FWP Commission’s recent decision not to extend the wolf hunting season in the West Fork of the Bitterroot. He said it would take local action, like this predator policy, to bring results.
“The time has come to stop the passive approach to controlling expanding populations of aggressive predators,” he said.
Marc Cooke, co-president of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, who has been consistently critical of the commissioners’ efforts in this regard, stated that it was clear that the commissioners were going to “railroad” this policy through no matter what. He came with a prepared statement that he submitted to the press immediately following the commissioners’ adoption of the policy.
“We are very disappointed in the Commissioners’ decision. However, we fully expected this outcome. Once again hysteria and special interest trump best available science. Please keep in mind it is near impossible to derail or reverse a group of individuals that are hell-bent on disregarding the facts with their tainted and bias-laced facts. We all have our own opinion but we can’t have our own facts,” stated his hand out.