Some Montana legislators have launched an unprecedented attack on Montana’s wildlife with eight radical, new bills that would sentence thousands of native carnivores such as grizzly bears, black bears and wolves to their deaths and damage the ecosystem as a result.
Historically, policies for Montana’s native carnivores were less extreme than other states in the region. Now, tragically, Montana is poised to join Idaho and Wyoming in an outright war against wildlife.
This attack would also harm Montana’s tourism industry. Montana attracts visitors from around the world to view its wildlife. In 2019, 5.5 million park visitors spent an estimated $640 million in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands in Montana. This supported 9,620 jobs, $306 million in labor income and $892 million in economic output in the state’s economy.
While Rep. Paul Fielder (HD 13), Sen. Bob Brown (SD 7), Sen. Bruce Gillespie (SD 9), and Sen. Mike Lang (SD 17) seem determined to clear out wildlife, it is important to note that Governor Greg Gianforte, who has hunted prairie dogs with Donald Trump Jr., is a lifetime member of the Montana Trappers Association.
The eight bills (listed below) range from extending wolf trapping season and allowing wolf snares (indiscriminate traps that cause slow, painful strangulation), to hound hunting of black bears, and new laws allowing livestock owners to potentially kill grizzly bears for threatening livestock if they lose federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2019 the Humane Society of the United States had high hopes for Montana wildlife. Just a couple of months after Spitfire the wolf was killed by a trophy hunter in Montana, then-State Senator Mike Phillips introduced four bills to protect wildlife that would create a much-needed buffer zone to prevent the trophy hunting of wolves on the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park; study the economic benefits that wolf and grizzly bear-watching tourism bring to Montana; ban wildlife killing contests; and criminalize the deliberate striking and killing of wildlife with off-road vehicles. Yet one after another, these bills faced pushback in the Legislature, and never made it to the Senate floor.
Amanda Wight, program manager for wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States explains what this all means: “The sheer number and extent of the bills in Montana demonstrates that these lawmakers are attempting to usurp biologists – including its own state wildlife agency – and declare war on wolves, bears and sound science. If these come to fruition, we are talking about a mass slaughter of wildlife, jeopardy to ecosystems, and a steep loss to the massive tourism economy and local jobs. This attack serves as a stark reminder of the horrors wolves in the rest of the country could face now that their federal protection under the Endangered Species Act has been removed. We could soon see more states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin follow this dangerous journey toward unregulated wolf killing.”
- HB 224, was heard in Senate Fish and Game Committee on Feb. 18 and could be voted on any day now. It has already passed the House. This bill allows wolf snaring–killing animals by slow strangulation. Snares are indiscriminate and can catch pets and other wildlife including federally protected eagles. Snaring bills are referred to as “dog killing bills” because many hunters, skiers and hikers recreate with their companion animals.
- HB 225, was heard in Senate Fish and Game Committee on Feb. 18 and could be voted on any day now. It has already passed the House. This bill aims to extend wolf trapping season an additional 30 days. Not only would extending the season increase the number of wolves killed using these cruel and archaic devices, but it would also increase the likelihood of “non-target” animals getting caught—including pets and endangered or imperiled species like grizzly bears.
- SB 98, will be heard in the House Agriculture Committee on March 11. It has already passed the Senate. This bill extends the state law allowance for killing grizzly bears. Currently, it’s illegal under state law to kill a grizzly, but there’s an exception for cases where the bear is in the act of killing livestock. SB 98 expands that to cover cases where bears are merely threatening livestock. This only makes a functional difference if grizzlies are delisted again, since it remains illegal under federal law to kill a grizzly regardless of what exceptions might exist under state law. This bill introduces an element of subjectivity that will be impossible to disprove.
- SB 267, passed out of the Senate on March 2 and could soon be heard in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. This bill authorizes reimbursement for wolf hunting and trapping, essentially bringing back a bounty system like the one that led to the eradication of wolves in the early 20th century.
- SB 337, passed out of the Senate on March 2 and could soon be heard in a House Committee. This bill would not allow Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to relocate grizzly bears outside the recovery zone.
- HB 367, will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 12. This bill would change the Montana constitution to require the state to use hunting and trapping as the primary means of managing wildlife. If passed, this act will be on the November 2022 ballot to be voted on by Montanans.
- HB 468, passed out of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee on Feb. 25 and could soon be hears on the House floor. This bill allows cruel hound hunting of black bears, which puts hounds and bears at great risk of injuries and death and disturbs all wildlife when packs of hounds run through a wild area.
- SB 314, passed out of the Senate on March 2 and could soon be heard in a House Committee. This bill establishes the intent of wolf hunting and trapping seasons to reduce Montana’s wolf population to a minimum of 15 breeding pairs. This bill also allows the commission to authorize a single individual to kill an unlimited number of wolves and allows night hunting of wolves on private lands with the use of artificial light or night vision scopes.
We will keep you updated on this issue as it develops visa The Humane Society Of The United States.
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