Stephen Capra: Wildlife management in Montana has reached a crisis | Columnists

STEPHEN CAPRA

The recent editorial from Senator Daines and Jim Risch (Billings Gazette, April 3) is yet another example of the appalling lack of understanding and cruelty Montana’s wildlife is subjected too. What’s more a creationist is now spouting science to fit his political agenda and the consistent push by Republican lawmakers to make wolves a cultural war.

The editorial by Dab Haaland (Billings Gazette, April 3) reflected her boiling frustration at the slaughter of wolves and the grossly underestimated numbers of wolves that are poached in our state. It’s laughable to state that Idaho’s and Montana’s wildlife management are not driving wolves to extinction. The cumulative impact of bounties being placed, hunting on the border of Yellowstone, a governor that illegally kills wolves and major sportsmen’s groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that promote the slaughter of wolves results in guiding policy at our state Fish, Wildlife and Parks that has no interest in protecting wolves. They cannot because the Legislature controls wildlife management in our state today.

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The agency has little idea how many wolves remain. The illegal killing continues with no real way to enforce seasons on wolves. Radical representatives like Paul Fielder continue to push for more killing and demand the agency conform to his agenda of slaughter.

The original plan of recovery was designed to get the ranching community to buy into having wolves on the land. But they have not ever welcomed wolves despite the fact that so few livestock are actually killed by wolves. More livestock die every year from weather, falls, disease: the list is endless, and wolves remain a real non-issue. But the livestock interests demand more killing every year and now they are setting their sights on grizzlies.

Perhaps the biggest whopper in the editorial was the statement that “any number of wolves above 1,500 would result in eventual habitat degradation.” What we have seen from wolves is the dramatic impact they have had in improving wildlife habitat, allowing elk and deer numbers to rise to record levels and to help combat chronic wasting disease. More than 1,500 only means more improved habitat.

In Idaho, the hunting season on wolves is almost a year round, the numbers of wolves killed has hit a critical threshold. In Montana with a legislative session just months away, we can expect even more insidious legislation to kill wolves and allow more trapping and torture of wildlife. Fish, Wildlife and Parks has no leadership and morale within the agency is at an all-time low.

Never mind the emotional appeals and red-herrings rhetoric that that senators Daines and Risch like to throw around. We are facing a real crisis. Wolves are being slaughtered for no good reason. Our management of wildlife in Montana has reached a crisis level and until we can get our Legislature out of wildlife management, wolves will bear the brunt of the growing ignorance and culture wars that are tearing our state apart.

Wolves belong in Montana and across the West; they are not to be feared, but embraced. They are a symbol of the ability to grow as a society and understand wildlife and their feeling, their sense of family and wonder. We often talk of wolves as a group, but the killing involves individuals, that are stuck in traps only to suffer until they are shot. It is young males looking for mates only to be drawn out of Yellowstone by a carcass and shot when they never knew the sound of a rifle. It’s a mother witnessing her pup caught in a snare.

This is not sport, it is murder of innocent wildlife and the time has come to get politicians like Sen. Daines, with a lifetime environmental voting record of just 9%, out of wildlife management. It is time we demand that wolves are given immediate re-listing to the Endangered Species Act protection.

Our state is currently incapable of doing the right thing.

Stephen Capra is executive director of Footloose Montana.

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