Monday, February 27, 2012

Toothy Critters

This commentary ran on Montana Public Radio on February 23rd. It was recorded by Ben Lamb, Conservation Director for MWF:

The old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” seems to follow Montana’s hunters around these days.

Last week, the FWP Commission voted to not extend the wolf hunting season in Wolf Management Unit 250, the West Fork of the Bitterroot. The Commission cited concerns over an ongoing predator-prey study funded by Montana Wildlife Federation Affiliates Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Commissioners cited other concerns such as the ethical choices made to harvest pregnant wolves, and what that public perception would look when hunters held up a dead wolf that is lactating, or visibly pregnant.

That’s an image that should be burned into every hunter’s mind. Currently, hunting and hunters have strong support from an overwhelmingly non-hunting public nationwide. We’ve worked for a century to craft an image of what ethical, fair-chase hunting looks like.

Wolves are a natural part of Montana’s wildlife heritage. They can – and should – be managed like other wildlife, including mountain lions and bears. However, wolf management is emotionally supercharged on both sides of the political spectrum.

As sportsmen and wildlife managers, it’s our job to let tempers cool down, look hard at the data, and make decisions based on the long term health of all wildlife, predator and prey.

The Montana Wildlife Federation has consistently pushed to reduce the wolf population in from the Bitterroot – Wildlife Management Unit 250. Working with our affiliate in the Bitterroot, we helped lift the legal roadblocks that stood in the way of active management and helped lead the effort to have wolves removed by hunters when they are depredating on livestock, and stood in strong support of extending the season to February 15, as well as supported the extension in the Bitterroot to April 1st.

However, as with all hunting seasons, wolf season must come to an end. Montana has a long held tradition of providing some level of security for all wildlife species. Wolves should be no different. There will be a new hunting season for them, come fall.

Our big game herds face a multitude of challenges. Wolves and other predators are the easiest to fixate on, but the least likely to influence overall herd dynamics. But we should never, ever take our eye off the ball – habitat is the bottom line. If we maintain good habitat, prey and predators will coexist as they have for thousands of years. If we lose the habitat, we’ve lost everything.

Subdivisions, loss of winter range, noxious weeds, winter weather and overharvest have had more influence than lions, bears or wolves throughout most of the state. We have had a couple above-average winters after decades of mild winters, which also has much to do with the state of our wildlife populations.

Yes wolves impact elk, deer and moose. There is no denying that. However, one cannot reasonably look at places like the Bitterroot, Gallatin, Flathead counties and other areas of heavy development and not bemoan the loss of traditional winter range.

Montana made a commitment to manage wolves in a scientifically defensible manner that provides for the long-term viability of the species. Citizens came together and crafted the Montana wolf management plan. Our management of wolves is based upon that peer reviewed, citizen crafted document. Hunters, Landowners, Livestock Producers and Conservationists all sat down and drafted a plan that allows for the adaptive management of wolves.

No plan is perfect but this plan does give Montana citizens a real opportunity to manage the wildlife that means so much to the people of this state.

Claiming that the FWP failed on the second regulated wolf hunt in the history of the State is short-sighted, and does nothing to bring people together. Wolf hysteria might serve politicians and pundits, but for the rest of Montana, it’s time to get beyond the hysterics, and start managing wolves just as we do Elk, Deer and other species.

FWP did a fine job of managing wolves in 2011. So long as people do not sacrifice the hard work that the wolf working group put into our plan, Montana will be managing wolves in the future.

Come to think of it, we do not just live in interesting times. We live in historic times. Montanans have a chance to prove that we can manage a full slate of wildlife species. Let’s do it right.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Make a little noise!

What does an early spring present look like? It looks like Congressman Steven LaTourette (R-OH). He’s just offered an amendment to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund for $600 million per year, for five years.

That’s huge. Now we need to send out a thanks to the Congressman, and a note to Congressman Denny Rehberg asking him to help make this amendment a reality.

As many of youy have seen, LWCF has created new public lands, and public access to private lands throughout Montana. Places like Fish Creek, west of Missoula, the Marshall Block, near Seeley Lake, and the confluence of the Yaak and the Kootenia around Libby have all come to the public trust under LWCF.

The City parks in our hometowns, and the fishing access sites we all use are funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It's easy to see why this program has so much support: Increased access to public lands, increased recreation opportunity in our towns, and the funds come from off-shore leasing.

In the last congress, $322 million was secured for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A far cry from where we started, at almost $0.

Let’s stand up for access, for large scale conservation, and support this amendment!

Call Congressman Rehberg's office today and ask that he support the LaTourette Amendment on the Land and Water Conservation Fund:

(202) 225-3211

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Marred by Dust and Sweat and Blood

By Randy Newberg

A recent rant submitted by Gary Marbut of Montana Shooting Sports Association is so void of fact that it requires rebuttal. If left unchallenged, stories can be accepted as the truth, so I provide some facts to balance his attack on common sense.

His claim of FWP’s “shocking tolerance and support for large predators,” stems from a FEDERAL reintroduction of gray wolves and FEDERAL courts treating wildlife management as abstract legal theory rather than science. Fact is nothing FWP could do to change that.
Does he suggest FWP should have disregarded Federal Laws and Courts? Common sense tells us FWP was handcuffed with the FEDERAL wolf reintroduction. FWP could have ignored common sense; much like Mr. Marbut and MSSA did during the 62nd Legislature, where they promoted over thirty unfavorable bills, including one to gut the state wolf management plan, which would have resulted in continued Federal wolf protection.

His attack on the integrity of FWP personnel should not have been allowed by an editorial board. It is without any supporting evidence. Strong personal attacks need to be supported by fact, not a personal tirade quoted below.

“by fudging game counts and census numbers, and by blaming any game population declines that could not be covered up on climate change, sunspots, lazy hunters, or aliens - anything but the truth."

These claims, if not so incendiary, would not be worthy of a reply. So flawed is this logic, or illogic, to ignore loss of habitat, a politically-influenced elk management plan, and legislative mingling, as primary causes for current elk numbers. Unfounded claims such as this have no place in the discussion.
Fact is Mr. Marbut’s friends in the Legislature continue mingling in the affairs of FWP, to the detriment of resident hunters, making science-based game management political fodder. Senator Debbie Barrett and her colleagues have passed bills requiring FWP to keep elk and deer populations under already low objectives. Those bills and the low objectives in the Montana elk management plan have done much to reduce elk populations in the Madison, Bitterroot, and Gallatin – a fact.

Now for the most humorous of his quotes, “Nobody at FWP noticed or cared several years ago when the editor of the NRA's nationwide American Hunter magazine published a feature article about his fruitless elk hunting trip to southwest Montana, a trip where the only tracks he saw were wolf tracks."

Since when is FWP responsible for a magazine editor’s hunting skill, or in this case, lack thereof? Given the abundance of elk “several years ago,” it is hard to believe an experienced hunter could not even find a track. Unfortunately, this kind of storytelling serves as truth among some who serve in Helena.

Fact is Montana finally has control of our wolves. We now have a wolf season to go with our mountain lion and black bear seasons, year-round coyote hunting, and a myriad of other ways for hunters to deal with the predators Mr. Marbut implies are causing the “crashing herds.”

In the last two months, friends and I have hunted wolves whenever possible. Predators have fallen to our bullets, including one wolf. Hunters managing predators, as planned.

With wolf delisting, we have every tool reasonably expected to manage predators. How many vocal critics are actually out there using these management tools, versus sitting behind their computers whining that FWP is not killing these predators for them?

Speaking of predators, the kind that prey on resident sportsmen seem abundant during legislative sessions. Bills promoted by MSSA and Mr. Marbut have often been attacks on FWP, resident hunters and anglers, and common sense. Bills like HB 321, which would have cost Montana Resident Sportsmen over $24 million in federal matching dollars. Or HB 369 which would have crippled our Game Wardens and let poachers have free reign. Fact is the list of predatory bills from the last session is much longer than space allows, and MSSA was often on the wrong side.

Mr. Marbut’s tirade seems most driven by fear of a slight fee increase. Whether or not FWP will go to the next legislature for such, who knows. What we do know is that history shows MSSA will likely be on the wrong side of the issue when measured against facts, common sense, and what is best for resident hunters.

So, there are just a few facts about MSSA’s recent attack on FWP. Facts being a currency many extremists are uncomfortable with, with MSSA often being bankrupt in their use of facts.