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War on Wildlife?

| March 24, 2021 6:20 AM

We are Montana residents and professional wildlife biologists and managers with a total of 1,561 years of experience in wildlife management and wildlife habitat management. Among us are 16 retired employees of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks with 469 years with the agency, and 3 former Commissioners from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.

We stand in opposition to the bills listed below being considered by the Montana Legislature in 2021. We find these bills to be based on misinformation about wildlife, misinformation about the effects of predators on prey species, and a lack of understanding about the complexity of natural environments in Montana. Detailed wildlife policy should be science-based and set by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission with the input of the public not by the legislature. These bills will harm the image of hunters and hunting in Montana. For decades Montana has been a leader in science-based wildlife management in the U.S. These bills are not based on science and are harmful to wildlife and the hunting heritage of Montana.

We strongly oppose the following bills: HB 224 and HB 225 – Allows neck snaring of wolves and extends the season for wolf trapping – Neck snares set for wolves will result in the capture of many non-target wildlife. The extension of the wolf trapping and snaring season will overlap with the times that grizzly and black bears are out of their dens resulting in bears being caught in wolf snares and traps. Data collected from radio-collared grizzly bears from 2015 through 2020 in Northwest Montana demonstrate that at least 35% of grizzly bears den later than December 1.

SB 267 – Allows paying a bounty to people to kill wolves – Paying people to kill

Montana wildlife will harm the image of hunters and hunting in Montana. This is completely unnecessary since each year more than 35% of Montana’s wolf population is killed by wolf hunters and trappers.

SB 337 - Revising laws on relocation of grizzly bears. Will prevent FWP from relocating any grizzly bears captured outside recovery zones. - This bill is contrary to 40 years of policy and cooperative grizzly management in Montana, it is contrary to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Guidelines, which Montana FWP has been a party to, and it will result in the unnecessary death of many grizzly bears. We are especially appalled that this bill is being promoted by the leadership of MT FWP. This bill will prevent grizzly bears from being delisted in Montana.

HB 468 – Allows hound hunting of black bears and a recreational chase season for hound hunters. – Hound hunting black bears can result in cub abandonment, chronic stress, heat exhaustion in warm weather, and abandonment of home ranges. Grizzly bears can be found throughout western Montana and hounds will chase grizzly bears who will fight and kill hounds. This will result in hound hunters shooting grizzly bears to defend their dogs or themselves when chased grizzly bears are encountered. Hound hunting of bears has been banned since 1921 in Montana. Hound hunting of bears is opposed by most hunters and is not considered fair chase hunting by most of the public.

SB 314 – Revises laws related to wolf harvest to allow bait to trap wolves, allows spotlighting of wolves on private lands, allows harvest of an unlimited number of wolves by a license holder. Use of bait near wolf traps will increase the non-target capture of many valuable wildlife species like lynx, wolverine, and fisher, among others. Spotlighting wildlife is contrary to fair-chase hunting and will harm the image of hunters and hunting in Montana. Farmers

and ranchers don’t want to get up in the night to find out who is spotlighting and shooting on their property. Unlimited killing of wolves is contrary to sound wildlife management policy and is unnecessary since 35% of the Montana wolf population is killed each year already by wolf hunters and trappers.

SB 306 – Revises the Fish and Wildlife Commission to require four of seven members to be “engaged in agricultural production.” The Fish and Game commission is the primary policy setting organization for wildlife and fishery management in Montana. The majority of hunters and anglers in Montana are not engaged in agricultural production. This law will mean that the majority of the Commission will be people who are not representative of the hunters and anglers of Montana. This is unnecessary and will be harmful to wildlife and fisheries management in Montana.

As wildlife biologists and wildlife management professionals, we stand opposed to these bills as being harmful to wildlife, harmful to the image of hunters, contrary to science, and wrong for Montana.

— Chris Servheen and 49 other former wildlife managers and biologists from state, federal and tribal governments as well as independent researchers. Servheen was the former grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.