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Manipulating the Numbers in Montana Wolf Policies

  Wolf Conservation Center friend and supporter Steve Clevidence is a native Montanan who has roots in the ranching community. Last week, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released their Wolf Management Plan for 2014-2015 and we asked Mr. Clevidence for his viewpoint on these proposals.  We wish to thanks Mr Clevidence for sharing his unique perspective.

By Steve Clevidence Montana Regional Representative for Living with

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has stated publicly many times over the years, that they are using the best available science in their Gray Wolf management policies. Yet, time and time again, they have proven that they are not using the best available science, but rather manipulating numbers to appease special hunting groups and organizations, as well as the domestic livestock industry.

* Montana state senate passed Senate Bill 200 in the 2013-14 legislature.

Senate Bill 200 essentially allows year round wolf hunting on private property within the state of Montana. 

The following is an excerpt from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner minutes describing the Senate bill and the proposed actions by the department of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Senate Bill 200, passed by Montana’s 63rd Legislature, provides for landowners or their agents, without a wolf license, to take wolves that are a potential threat to human safety, livestock or domestic dogs. The bill also provided authority for the Fish & Wildlife Commission to create rules and set a quota to regulate this specific take. This quota and take is separate, and in addition to, any quota or general harvest associated with the wolf hunting and trapping season. The Commission has already adopted ARM rules that confirm such requirements as landowners reporting within 24 hours any wolf taken under this expanded authority. The carcass must be left where it was killed until FWP investigates. The hide, skull and carcass must also be surrendered to FWP. FWP proposes an adjustment to the initial adoption–a statewide quota of 50 wolves with the option for the Commission to allow an additional 50 if the first 50-quota is met. This would remain in place until another annual quota is adopted in July 2015. 

* Public Involvement Process & Results

During the public hearings on this administrative rule, public comment included requests for the quota to be liberal enough to ensure legislative intent for additional authority to take potentially threatening wolves while also maintaining a viable wolf population. Public comment end June 23 with comments forwarded to the Commission. There was a relatively large volume of public comment with some comments in “form letter” format. Many of these comments opposed the proposed quota.

* Alternatives and Analysis

Assumptions based upon the history of relatively few wolves taken by landowners suggest a relatively small total take. In this light, a 100-wolf quota is likely overly sufficient to maintain this authority throughout the year.

* Agency Recommendation & Rationale

FWP recommends a statewide quota of 50 wolves representing potential threats to humans, livestock or domestic dogs with an option for an additional 50 to be approved by the Commission. Historical harvest of wolves by landowners suggests a 50-wolf statewide annual quota (with an option for an additional 50) would maintain the opportunity to take wolves throughout the year without unduly risking Montana’s wolf population. In the event take of wolves under this authority exceeds expectations and represents real concerns, the Commission may restrict this take in specific areas before the statewide quota is met. This quota and take is separate and in addition to, any quota or general harvest associated with the wolf hunting and trapping seasons.

Being an advocate for ethical treatment towards the wolf has never been an easy task here in Montana. It is even harder when that advocate happens to be a member of a pioneer Montana ranching family, such as myself. Some local sportsman organizations and most especially many ranchers within the state view me as a turn coat, a traitor to Montana hunting and livestock heritage and traditions if you will. I grew up ranching, hunting, fishing in the Montana outdoors, and was taught certain ethics and principles that most hunters value highly. Unfortunately those hunters that believe in those ethics and principals as yet, prefer to remain complacent. Fear of being rejected or even ridiculed by their peers, they remain discreet publicly when voicing their dissatisfaction in the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages the predators, most especially the wolf. Many of us that live here in the state of Montana and who are spokespersons for wolf advocate organizations noted and commented before the Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners, that historically 7 – 8 wolves have to date been killed annually in the state of Montana after being considered aggressive or posing a threat to local livestock, or pets.

 The department originally set the quota at 100 wolves, then changed it to allow for 50 wolves to be killed under this bill, and allowing the FWP commission to establish a further 50 wolves to be taken if they so deem necessary. No matter how it is worded, 50 + 50 still equals 100. It is our belief that even allowing 25 wolves to be killed under this bill considering historical data, is extreme. We asked both publicly as well by written comment that the quota as it is recommended by the dept. of FWP, be reduced even further. We also asked that any wolf that is killed under the guide lines of SB 200, be deducted from the wolf hunting quota established within that particular hunting for the 2014-2015 hunting season, to no avail.

Also during the previous Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner meeting, we asked that the wolf quota for the hunting districts along the northern border of Yellowstone National Park be reduced, stressing the importance of a Buffer Zone being placed along the boundary between YNP and Montana and that no wolves would be hunted. A commissioner moved to reduce the wolf quota from four to three wolves in the border hunting districts and the proposal passed with a 3-4 vote by that commission. On Monday June 30, 2014, senior management within Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks over rode the commission vote and raised the quota back to 4 wolves in those particular hunting districts bordering the park. 

* A Non-consumptive Wolf Conservation Stamp proposal:

Many of us for some time have expressed our desire to see a Wolf Conservation Stamp created that would enable the non-consumptive user to support conservation, wildlife habitat, scientific research and funding to offset and reimburse the livestock communities for any wolf depredation in the state of Montana. We have stressed repeatedly the importance and effectiveness of utilizing non-lethal methods to help prevent depredation. It is common knowledge that the wolf as a predator is resourceful, and at times, even when using non-lethal deterrents, predation my happen. To promote the use of non-lethal deterrents, revenue generated from the stamp would help offset the producer’s loss and be an incentive for others to adopt those practices upon their land.

Recently, our wishes were realized when Zack Strong, a wildlife advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Bozeman, Montana, drafted a wolf stamp proposal and presented it to the commission through the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission chairman Dan Vermillion.

The proposal introduced by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission states:
 (1) the department shall create wolf management stamps to be issued to any persons who wish to donate to the department’s management of wolves. Any resident or nonresident may purchase one of more such stamps for a donation of $20.00 each.
(2) Money received from the sale of wolf management stamps will be considered a donation and must first be used to pay for the cost of administering the stamp program. The remainder of money received must be equally divided and allocated for the following purposes:

(a) grants awarded through the livestock loss reduction program, pursuant to 2-15-3111, MCA;
(b) wolf monitoring, habitat protection or acquisition within occupied wolf habitat, scientific research of wolves, or public education and outreach activities relating to wolves; and
(c) the hiring of additional wardens, as defined by 87-1-101(5), MCA, within occupied wolf habitat. 

Reason: Constituents expressed a desire to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for a mechanism to donate to the department’s management of wolves. The commission, as a result, directed the department to create a wolf management stamp for this purpose. The wolf management stamp will provide an additional funding source for wolf management in Montana. The voluntary donations provide non consumptive users the opportunity to contribute to wildlife management instead of just hunters and anglers.

* Concerns among Wolf advocates

Although the majority of us embrace the creation of such a stamp, we have grave concerns on how the revenue from the stamp will be managed through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. We also have expressed that the present language within the proposal as stated by that department does not restrict the revenue generated from the sale of that stamp can only be used for non-lethal management of wolves.

* My personal thoughts on the Wolf Conservation Stamp:

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a history of ignoring unfavorable public comments and at times manipulating the actual count so that it concurs with that department’s original intent. Why worry about it if there is no repercussions, seems to be their policy. In fact, if public comments are submitted in form letter containing multiple signatures, the department still counts that letter as ONE comment. I am personally all in favor of the Wolf Conservation Stamp and urge its support by the non-consumptive communities. My feeling to ensure that revenue generated by the sale of the stamp, will be used as the non-consumptive user intended, the collection and distribution of that revenue needs to be monitored by a professional, neutral, and independent organization or company. It is well known a few individuals within Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks want to see the stamp program fail, for obvious reasons and that is to maintain hunter, livestock community control of that department. I fear manipulation to satisfy a few will continue for the time being within Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, until certain closed minded individuals within that department are either replaced, or the funding of that department is no longer totally based on revenue generated by federal grants, donations by special interest organizations, and by revenue raised from the sale of sportsman licenses.