MISSOULA, Mont.-In a letter to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Joe Maurier, conservation organizations are urging state officials to stick with science in determining adequate populations of gray wolves, rather than negotiating with environmental and animal rights groups to allow surplus populations
The agency is currently negotiating a settlement with the 13 groups who sued to keep gray wolves federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
These negotiations potentially threaten to weaken the state's authority to manage populations of game and non-game species, presenting a dangerous precedent for other states seeking to manage wolf populations through their respective state agencies.
The letter, signed by Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, Mule Deer Foundation President and CEO Miles Moretti, and Big Game Forever/Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife President Ryan Benson, also decries the state's failure to include sportsmen, farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders in the settlement processes relative to wolf control.
By excluding other interested parties from the discussions, the state is setting up a take-it-or-leave-it appeasement, after the fact, upon its sporting and agricultural industries. "Offering a public comment period after the negotiations are complete will likely further drive a wedge between sportsmen and FWP and the environmental groups," stated Moretti and Allen.
Among the concessions Montana leaders are reportedly negotiating with plaintiff groups is an outright departure from the science and the original public feedback used to develop the state's existing wolf management plan. In addition to relisting the wolf, the state is being pressed by plaintiff groups to settle for higher surplus wolf populations in Montana. Numbers over and above science-based wolf management plans will continue to threaten elk and moose populations as well as livestock which is unacceptable and unsustainable in many regions of Montana.
"Any proposal in closed-door settlement talks to increase the population goals in the plan will depart from both the science and public debate that went into the plan. This is one of the reasons we feel such negotiations are unwise," the letter states. "We strongly reiterate that the past behavior of some of these groups since the inception of the wolf-recovery program calls for great caution in attempts at any negotiation with these groups-especially if such a deal is hatched to satisfy plaintiffs who shrewdly used a technicality to strike down a Federal decision."
Weakening the state's power to manage its wildlife populations including predators, Allen cautions, will likely serve to alienate non-resident sportsmen and parties in other states. Not only will this alienation likely result in a loss of state revenue as non-resident sportsmen and agricultural investors look to spend their money elsewhere, but any precedent set by removing state control over these surplus populations in Montana threatens to trickle down in other areas of the country, including other Rocky Mountain states and the Great Lakes region.
The letter also reminds Gov. Schweitzer and Director Maurier that these negotiations are very likely to be non-binding to third parties which may take up the lawsuit tactics of current environmental groups at any time under different names. This will not bring a resolution to the management plan for surplus wolf populations, as was promised to Montana when wolves were originally reintroduced into the state.
"Many of these groups have a very bad track record of saying one thing and doing another. They have over reached in this entire wolf recovery process, they know it and now they want to mysteriously settle. There is no way that one can assume they will honor their words, especially when they have done the exact opposite repeatedly in the past with this entire wolf recovery program. The bottom line is they do not want wolves delisted, they want to drag this process out, delay as long as they can and ignore what the science says about wolf recovery. We have asked them to share their science repeatedly and we have yet to see anything; one can only assume they have none. We do have scientific data and we are willing to stand behind it and settle this issue for good. Negotiating a settlement with such groups is very unwise and will most likely come back to haunt Montana," said Allen.
"We feel that a Congressional solution is the best way to ensure management of wolves by the State of Montana and all other states across the country and puts an end to the one-sided litigation," the letter continued. "We support the bi-partisan efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R. 6028, co-sponsored by Congressman Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), which provides a common-sense approach to this issue. We also support a version of the House bill that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, S.B. 3919."
"We are a coalition of sportsmen groups, agriculture groups and landowners formed to seek a firm, permanent resolution to this issue. We fundamentally believe that it is the states that should manage wildlife, not the federal government. It is our intention to seek a remedy that will address the wolf issue for all states, anything short of that will only result in more litigation and more expense for the taxpayers. It is time that the real science and true state management process determine how all wildlife is managed in this country."
The letter to Governor Schweitzer and Director Maurier can be found on www.rmef.org.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.8 million acres-a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.