U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester are clashing over who can claim credit for returning wolf management to Montana game officials this year, with the senator’s office and the Montana Democratic Party accusing Rehberg of “lying” in a TV interview last week.
Rehberg, a Republican challenging Tester in the 2012 election, told KPAX-TV in Missoula last Friday that he “helped lead the effort” to undo a federal court ruling that had taken management away from Montana and canceled a planned 2010 hunting season.
“Everything that was put into place was done in the House,” he said. “There would be those in the Senate that tried to take credit for it.”
The language that passed Congress in April and ultimately overturned the court ruling — and allowed Montana to reinstate its wolf hunting season this year — was inserted into a bill by the Senate.
Tester, a Democrat, says he worked closely with colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to insert the language, which was an amalgamation of proposals from Tester, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
Tester voted for the larger budget bill that contained the language and Rehberg voted against it; the bill passed Congress and President Barack Obama signed it into law April 15.
“Congressman Rehberg voted against Jon’s bipartisan wolf legislation, and now the congressman wants everyone to believe he somehow led the charge and the Senate didn’t even pass a bill?” said Tester’s spokesman, Aaron Murphy. “It’s downright lying, and he got caught.”
Rehberg defended his statements by noting his long, very public record of pushing to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act listing and overturn the 2010 court ruling.
He also said the language that passed is only a “temporary solution,” but is a good step toward solving the problem of wolves listed as an endangered species. He said he supported the language, but opposed the overall bill that contained it for other reasons.
“I’m a big believer in the old adage that you can accomplish a lot when you don’t care about who gets the credit,” he said. “I’ll leave it to the political spin doctors to bicker about who gets credit for what.”
Rehberg sponsored a bill this year to remove wolves entirely from the jurisdiction of the Endangered Species Act. It never reached a vote in committee.
Like many contentious issues that wind their way through Congress, the path of the wolf language that overturned the court decision is a tortuous one.
Tester and Baucus introduced a bill a year ago to overturn the court ruling and return management of the wolf to Idaho and Montana wildlife officials, and then a second bill in February.
Rep. Simpson of Idaho also introduced his own slightly different version, which was inserted into a House-passed budget bill in February that was rejected in the Senate, with Tester and Baucus voting no.
The Senate then inserted the Simpson language, plus some of its own, into a final spending bill in April that ultimately passed. Tester claims credit for persuading congressional leadership and Obama to include the language in the bill.
The language removed wolves from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho and returned management of the wolf to each state’s respective wildlife agencies.
Montana has had a management plan in place for the wolf since 2004.
Passage of the bill allowed Montana to schedule its second annual wolf hunting season this year, beginning Saturday and possibly stretching into December. The state has a hunting quota of 220 wolves.