Sportsmen Taking Charge of Predator Problems

By: Toby Bridges

By: Toby Bridges

In Montana the typical family, resident or non-resident, can load up in the family van, SUV or pickup truck on a hot summer day and head down to many of the state’s parks or state maintained “fishing access” areas, and spend the day frolicking in the cool flow of famed fishing waters, such as the Bitterroot River, the Clark Fork River, or the Yellowstone River. The family can also enjoy tossing around a Frisbee, bring along the BBQ grill and sear a few hamburgers, lay back on a blanket and soak up some of that warm summer sun, maybe even launch a raft, canoe or inner-tube and float from one access area to another, plus enjoy a lot of other summertime activities – at absolutely no charge.

On the other hand, let a fisherman toss out a worm on a hook or a lure, and he or she had better have a Montana fishing license and a conservation license in their wallet or pocket. To use the same “Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks administered and maintained” access areas and parks, the sportsman has to pay for the right to fish or hunt (where hunting is allowed). On the other hand, the general public can utilize these same areas and parks for free. Guess who is paying to purchase these areas, to install launching and loading ramps, to construct toilets and parking lots, not to mention covering the expense of upkeep. It’s certainly not the state’s taxpayers.

Since the founding of Montana’s fish and wildlife agency back in 1901, then named the Montana Fish and Game Department, it has been the state’s sportsmen who have funded the agency – through sales of fishing and hunting licenses and permits. Using those dollars, the agency slowly grew, adding a staff of wildlife and fisheries managers and biologists, conservation officers, range and habitat experts, and other game and fish professionals. By the 1960’s Montana’s once nearly lost elk herds had rebounded, with growing numbers of bighorn sheep, mountain goats and pronghorns, along with thriving populations of white-tailed and mule deer. Those wildlife populations were saved by sportsman provided funding, and as those harvestable and renewable wildlife resources grew, so did interest in hunting and fishing in Montana – bringing in still more funding for expanded conservation projects.

With the continued growth in license and permit sales, the Montana Fish and Game Department stepped up its conservation efforts, and the state’s wildlife populations exploded to record numbers during the 1980’s . This success came without using general tax dollars. That began to change when the agency was renamed Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in 1991.

The Montana State Parks website declares, “Montana State Parks receive no general fund dollars and no funding from hunting and fishing licenses.”

However, if an audit were made, it would show that “Parks” dips into “Fish and Wildlife” funds on a regular basis, once to the tune of $300,000 to purchase new land for the future Fish Creek State Park. That same audit would likely show that the fish and wildlife side was never reimbursed. “Parks” claims that 33% of their operating revenue comes from a $6 kick back they get from vehicle registration. Montanan’s can opt out on paying that “contribution” to state parks. Again, that very same audit would likely show that quite a few vehicle owners do not provide that funding to Montana State Parks.

Many Montana sportsmen feel that if Montana State Parks are so self supporting, perhaps they should stand alone – or that a new “Department of State Parks and Recreation” should be established. Managing wildlife takes a concentrated effort, and an agency that is mandated by the Montana State Constitution to insure healthy fish and game populations, through the investments made by the state’s hunters and fishermen, does not need to be burdened with the distraction of providing places of recreation for those who do not pay their way.

Today, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is basically bankrupt – and the agency has no one to blame but itself. During the early 1990’s FWP swallowed the federally forced introduction of non-native Canadian wolves into the Northern Rockies – hook…line…and sinker! Perhaps all of the young wildlife biologists and managers on board at that time wanted to be a part of what was hailed to be “the greatest wildlife conservation effort of the 20th Century”. We now realize that the 1995-96 introduction of the non-indigenous subspecies of wolf transplanted into Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has become, in reality, the biggest wildlife disaster since the slaughter of the American bison during the 1870’s and 1880’s.


Great elk herds throughout the Northern Rockies have been decimated by an unknown number of wolves, which are being mismanaged by state wildlife agencies which have no accurate means of determining wolf populations. One thing that became clear by the mid 2000’s, was that the wolves were already making a much bigger impact on most all big game populations than our dubious “wildlife experts” proclaimed prior to the wolves being released. All across Western Montana, elk herds are now down by 80-percent, with moose populations decimated even more, and deer populations steadily plummeting. Along with that loss has been the loss of revenue from the sale of those big game hunting licenses and permits which have kept MT FWP well funded through the years.

What angered Montana sportsmen more than anything is the manner in which FWP repeatedly lied to cover up the impact wolves were making, and spreading more lies to hide the true number of wolves in the state. MT FWP and former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer showed just how spineless they really were by not standing up to the Department of the Interior, and to one cowardly federal judge in Missoula, Donald Molloy, who hid behind his bench to freely side and work with anti-hunting environmental groups to stall wolf management. And when they could no longer stop allowing wolf hunts, FWP foolishly tried to “manage” wolves as “big game” – insuring that the wolf population would remain high year after year.

With an inadequate reduction of the wolf population, the destruction of the state’s money making big game herds continued, and FWP found itself in a financial crisis. Now, to make up for the dramatic loss of millions of dollars in the sales of licenses and permits, FWP has an idiotic new plan up its sleeve. The FWP Commission, with a little help from the Natural Resources Defense Council and likely the Montana Wildlife Federation, has proposed the sale of a $20 “Wolf Management Stamp”. This isn’t another way to gouge hunters out of more dollars, and the stamp is not required in order to purchase a wolf hunting license or hunt wolves. This is a stamp for the pro-wolf advocates and pro-wolf organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, across the country to “chip in”, and donate to wolf management in this state.

On Thursday, August 14, 2014, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission conducted “hearings” all across the state to hear comments for or against such a stamp. These hearings, or meetings, were held at the FWP Regional offices in Kalispell, Missoula, Bozeman, Great Falls, Billings, Glasgow and Miles City, plus at the FWP State Headquarters in Helena.

On Friday, August 8, the syndicated radio talk show “Voices of Montana” aired on 19 radio stations across the state, and the topic was the upcoming “Wolf Management Stamp” hearings. Very angry sportsmen who phoned in live dominated that show, and were extremely opinionated about how FWP willingly went along with the wolf introduction, and how the agency has done a very poor job of trying to reduce wolf numbers. Keith Kubista, president of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, commented on how FWP will alienate sportsmen even further by taking money from wolf advocates and from the very same pro-wolf organizations which forced the introduction of those wolves into prime big game country. Scott Rockholm, the founder of Save Western Wildlife, called in to share that if FWP proceeds with adopting this stamp, selling out the sportsmen who have funded the agency since it was founded, his organization is ready and willing to file a lawsuit against the FWP Commission.


One caller shared that Montana sportsmen simply need to take the matter into their own hands, and shoot wolves whenever they see them. Another cautioned that the stamp would open the door to allowing anti-hunters and anti-hunting groups to gain more say in wildlife management in this state – which could be the beginning of the end for hunting.

If the sportsmen of Montana show up at these hearings with the same level of animosity and disgust that was shared on the “Voices of Montana” radio show last week, things are likely to get very heated – and FWP commissioners and officials are even more likely to get an ear full. – Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH

What are your feelings on MT FWP selling a pro-wolf stamp to those who largely oppose hunting? Send your thoughts to me at lobowatch1@gmail.com .

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