By Nick gevock
A proposal to create a new “wolfstamp” for non-hunters to help fund Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks legislatively mandated $900,000 per year wolf program has been cast as a secret plot to end wolf hunting in the state by some people. Others claim it will lead to more dead wolves and shouldn't be instituted because of that. Like 99% of all public policy, if both extremes are upset, you might have just hit the ball out of the park.
The problem is, like so many things these days, both sides would rather fight than win.
While the idea might need a little bit of refinement, it seems foolish to deride anyone who comes up with new, innovative ways to fund wildlife management.
To begin with, it’s important to note that the idea came from the Natural Resource Defense Council, a nationwide group with an office in Bozeman. Zach Strong, a Great Falls native and lifelong hunter, proposed the idea to offer anyone who wanted to contribute to wildlife management to pay for non-lethal means of managing wolves.
The pitchforks came out right away. Opponents jumped on the proposal, making outlandish claims that don’t bear up under any scrutiny. Others opposed the stamp along financial lines, which have some merit. FWP is currently engaged in seeking funding increases to ensure our world class wildlife stays world class and a stamp like this could possibly upset the political balancing act necessary to get anything through the Montana Legislature (which is notoriously antagonistic to Fish, Wildlife and Parks). But even the more moderate criticisms shouldn’t stop movement forward of this proposal. Those issues can all be worked out before the session begins in January of 2015.
Here’s what the revenue generated by the stamp can be used for: preventive measures to keep wolves out of trouble by the state Livestock Loss Reduction program; the acquisition of habitat that benefits elk & deer as well as wolves and for game wardens to help enforce wildlife laws. That’s it.
The preventive programs include active carcass removal to get rid of attractants that bring bears and wolves down into valleys, setting up trouble. They also involve hiring range riders and some selective fencing efforts to reduce conflict.
It’s worked. In the Blackfoot Valley alone, problems with grizzly bears have been reduced by a staggering 96 percent, according to state officials with the livestock loss program. It’s also kept wolf attacks on livestock at a bare minimum.
It’s important to note that this funding doesn’t support anything FWP isn’t already doing. And while it may have the non-lethal stipulation on it, getting more funding into FWP could free up other money to fund the day in, day out management of wildlife, including wolves. The wolf stamp is only dipping a toe into exploring opportunities for non-hunters to help shoulder the burden that hunters, anglers and landowners have carried for generations. This is a pilot project that should be welcomed, not feared. .
The larger and more important point is that getting more of the public to fund public wildlife will help keep it that way – a public resource to be enjoyed by everyone. We will never all agree with some policies put forward by some groups, but the fact is those people have as much of a seat at the table as anyone else. Some people are quick to call them “freeloaders” and yet decry them for wanting to put up funding. That’s a bit of talking out of both sides of your mouth.
And finally, it’s critical to look at the path some other states have taken on this issue. States that have broadened the funding for their fish and wildlife agencies – most notably Missouri and Arkansas – have maintained strong departments and strong public hunting opportunity. States that have gone another route – like Colorado and most strikingly Utah – have seen a steady decline where hunting has become a privilege of the moneyed elite.
I’d rather share the burden of funding wolf management with those willing to purchase a stamp which frees up my license dollars to work on other issues than continue down a road that sees less and less funding for wildlife management.
The public has a chance to weigh in on the wolf stamp. You can attend the meetings this evening at your regional Fish, Wildlife and Parks headquarters and you have until August 22nd to submit comments online. We encourage you to participate in the great democratic process that is Montana's Wildlife Management.