Wolf Management Stamp Up for Public Consideration

Three-hour hearing held on potential initiative

By Xavier Flory

Opponents and supporters came together in meetings across Montana to discuss a proposed wolf management stamp.

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been asking for public input into the initiative, which would raise money for the conservation of wolves, among other projects.

Wolf management has long been a controversial issue in Montana, where wolf populations have fluctuated widely in the past decades. With the species facing near extinction in North America, wolves were introduced back into Yellowstone National Park and the central Idaho wilderness in 1995 and 1996, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated Northwest Montana as one of three wolf recovery areas. However, as the number of wolves has increased – current estimates for the number of wolves in Montana are around 800 – some people have expressed concern at the effect these predators are having on large game herds, which are also hunted by humans. Others posit that there is no need for human interference with wolf populations, saying that the numbers will regulate themselves over time.

The new rule would allow the department to create wolf management stamps that would be sold for $20 to citizens who wish to donate to the department’s management of wolves. The money not needed for administering the stamp program would then be divided evenly between grants awarded through the livestock reduction program; wolf monitoring, habitat protection, research and public education regarding wolves; and the hiring of additional wardens within occupied wolf habitat.

More than 15 people turned out for a meeting in Kalispell, which was one of seven other administrative regions across the state that gave members of the public the chance to voice their concerns, disagreements or support for the rule before the administration decides on it later this year.

Opponents of the stamps, many of them hunters, argued that the stamp went against years of wildlife management policy, was inequitable – if a wolf stamp is created, why not also a stamp for deer and bison management? – and it would deplete the numbers of animals available for hunting.

Columbia Falls city councilor and bow hunter Mike Shepard worried that if the wolf stamp were approved, “emotion and money will take over reason.”

Others echoed his sentiments about the danger of letting people donate and then dictate policies they shouldn’t have anything to do with.

“It’s kind of a lame-brained idea,” Neil Jacobson said after suggesting a stamp for people who oppose an increase in wolf population.

Dave Cypher of Dillon suggested that the proponents of the bill were politically motivated and that the idea itself was unrealistic.

He told supporters of the stamp to, “back off. You’re dealing with an angry public here.”

Supporters of the stamp, meanwhile, insisted that the program wouldn’t fund anything new, and that all groups stood to benefit from additional funding.

“There is a raging ignorance about wolves in the public,” said Steve Gnaidek of Columbia Falls, who served as a wildlife management biologist in Glacier National Park from 1987 to 2009.

He expressed his strong support for the initiative, which he hopes will create more awareness.

“Anything that promotes education is good,” he said.

Paula Gordon, speaking on behalf of her family and her grandparents who homesteaded in Montana in 1915, applauded the “unique, new model,” and predicted that the Wolf Management Stamp could become a model that could be learned from and emulated.

Other supporters of the initiative hailed it as a forward thinking idea, and claimed that it would indeed benefit all wildlife.

With two minutes for each speaker, there was time for everyone to state their opinion without the possibility of anyone going into the details of the initiative and what tweaks could be made to improve it.

FWP had already received well more than 14,500 comments on the stamp before the statewide hearing, and many of the initial comments revolved around the wording – too vague according to many – and the potential overlap with the existing conservation stamp in Montana. Last week’s meeting, however, brought out the most passionate defenders and opponents of the initiative.

FWP will now have roughly a month to consider the public comments and file its decision with Secretary of State Linda McCulloch in late September before the rule could be adopted Oct. 9.

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