Dozens of supporters of the state’s proposal to partially fund wolf management with nonhunter dollars met a nearly equal opposition from some hunting and livestock groups and members of the public at a statewide hearing Thursday evening.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks held the hearing to consider an administrative rule creating a wolf management stamp, which would partially fund nonlethal controls, education, habitat acquisition and hiring of wardens. The agency held the hearing after receiving more than 14,500 comments on the proposal.
All seven administrative regions and FWP headquarters in Helena teleconferenced with members of the public taking turns at the podium for two minutes each. Comments lasted nearly three hours, with the bulk coming from western Montana.
The wolf stamp debate centers on whether a state agency funded by license sales should tap into nonhunters for funding for management of one of its most controversial species.
“I’ve not felt like I’ve had my voice listened to and not had an opportunity to contribute to this issue,” said Leslie Millar, testifying in Region 2 in support of the stamp. “It’s thrilling.”
“If you’ve been listening to the hunters and the trappers, they don’t want us at the table,” said Dagmar Riddles, testifying in Region 3.
The $20 stamp would be considered a donation, with no limit to the number an individual could purchase, according to the proposed rule.
“This is something really profoundly progressive for the state of Montana for giving people the opportunity to invest in nonlethal forms of management,” said Christopher Justice, executive director of Footloose Montana, an organization opposed to trapping on public lands.
Many proponents of the stamp asked that FWP change the language of the rule to explicitly earmark the funding for nonlethal management only and to call the stamp a “wolf conservation stamp.”
The wording of the proposed rule drew the ire of many opposed as well. Several people testifying questioned language earmarking funds to “acquire” wolf habitat. Many also expressed concern over the influence nonhunter funding could have on wolf management.
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“Why is it that some groups really want to push this?” asked Harold Johnson of Plentywood, who identified himself as a member of the Montana Trappers Association and Ducks Unlimited. “A lot of these groups want to put in their two bits and some want no wolf management occurring.”
“Conservation is led by hunters for hunters,” said Matt Ulberg of Safari Club International. “We’re opposed to any funding in opposition to hunting.”
Others asked why nonhunters couldn’t buy a conservation license or why the stamp only supports wolves and couldn’t include all species.
“How about a stamp for other animals?” asked Neal Jacobson testifying in Region 1. “You’re taking away 100 years of game management to try something new.”
Jack Strong of the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that hunters get the opportunity to harvest game with a license, and non-hunters should have the same opportunity to support nonlethal management.
“It seems only fair that those who make a donation should receive something in exchange, that their donation not be used to kill wolves,” he said.
The proposal drew the support of several hunters and hunting organization across the state. Representatives from Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Helena Hunters and Anglers and the Montana Wildlife Federation testified in favor of the proposal.
“Wildlife is a public trust owned by everybody, and everybody should have a say in how wildlife is managed,” said Ben Lamb, a hunter testifying in Helena. “For us to stand here now and say we don’t want your money is incredibly short-sighted.”
After taking public comment until Aug. 22, FWP plans to file its decision with the Secretary of State by the end of September, with adoption of a new rule by Oct. 9.
FWP Director Jeff Hagener will make the final determination on the stamp.