This past year Montana’s governor and the Legislature, led by representative and trapper Paul Fielder from Thompson Falls, passed a series of reckless bills aimed at decimating the wolf population in our state, despite the fact we have record numbers of deer and elk requiring extra-long hunting seasons.
Testimony at the Legislature warned legislators that if they passed wolf slaughter bills, the federal government would intervene. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is undertaking a 12-month review of the wolves’ status to determine relisting the wolves as endangered. Currently the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks — in desperate need of reform — has decided to allow anyone with a license to kill 20 wolves, 10 by shooting and 10 by trapping. Our state is sanctioning the torture and eradication of animals of tremendous intelligence and beauty. Destroying packs, which will lead to more livestock depredation, is designed to make wolves the cultural enemy.
But it’s not just Republicans who can hang their hat on this slaughter. If you examine the process, you can’t avoid seeing the handiwork of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. It is Sen. Tester who moved to delist wolves and return them to state control in 2011, an effort that has proven to be a disaster. But Tester has long seen his tough reelections dependent on killing wolves, not thriving wildlife. His actions against wolves are a disgrace and deserve more sunshine and less double talk.
Many people I have spoken with believe wolf protection flows through the Interior Department. That is true to a certain extent, but it seems clear that the Interior Secretary would like to reinstate protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho. The problem seems to be coming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency that will soon have as its director a person shepherded by Jon Tester — Martha Williams, former director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Williams’ reign at FWP showed little support for wolves and more talk than action about moving the agency out of the stone age and into the real world of allowing species to be self-regulating. There was no action to curb the rampant power of the NRA and trophy hunting and trapping organizations that control the agency and directly fund its narrow mission.
Now, thanks to Tester, Williams will be appointed director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after only a few years in wildlife management. The reason is simple; Tester does not want wolves placed back in protection. Tester’s refusal to meet with constituents on this seems based on the mistaken belief that he understands the will of people across Montana on the issue of wolves.
Tester does not understand the love for, emotion and passion that people bring to the table in their support of wolves. His written responses to constituents are tone deaf to concerns. He ignores the financial power wolves generate for Montana.
It’s not easy to be hard on a senator who has done so much for Montana. His votes on infrastructure, health care and many important issues have been bold and important, but his efforts to stop the protection of wolves need to be challenged.
Wildlife is the real treasure of the Treasure State, and wolves are valuable not only economically and environmentally, but also for disease control. Chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis are on the rise. Can we really afford to destroy wolves, the only known defense?
Most Montanans, including ranchers, find the wolf slaughter repugnant. The time has come for leadership that allows wolves to coexist.
Senator Tester, this is your chance to get right with wolves.
Stephen Capra is executive director of Footloose Montana.
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