Guest Column

Veto Bills Legislating Wildlife Management

FWP professionals are best positioned to craft wildlife management with sharp awareness of all biological and sociological variables and nuances

By Kent Laudon

Dear Governor Gianforte, 

I respectfully ask that you carefully consider vetoing the series of bills that attempt to legislate wildlife management (HB 224, HB 225, SB 267, SB 306, SB 314, SB 337, HB 468).

I have had the privilege to serve as a wildlife manager for 31 years, for eight state, federal, and tribal agencies, and organizations. I have managed the public’s wildlife trust in six states throughout the western United States, including Montana. I have worked with species like big horn sheep, black bear, cougar, elk, mountain goat, mule deer, wolves, and people, including ranchers, hunters, foresters, conservationists, and other folks inspired by our wild places and wild things. I worked on a variety of management topics, including population, private property, agriculture, as well as the social, political, and economic aspects. I, with others, was integrally involved in creating and evolving Montana’s first wolf hunting and trapping regulations and seasons in 2009-2014. I worked hard to manage the public wildlife trust across diverse, and at times sharply polar, public values. I am proud of Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ work, its Commission, and Montanans who all worked hard to get to that spot in the middle. Something for everyone, or better — not all for some.

I argue that Fish, Wildlife and Parks is the best state fish and game agency in the country with a Commission to match. Their professionals routinely dial in management of the public trust that makes sense, based on the best data, and balances the wants of a value-varied public with full public participation. Because of that, they are best positioned to craft wildlife management with sharp awareness of all biological and sociological variables and nuances.  

These bills have too many details to go into here and we are all aware. Allow me to just highlight two to demonstrate the difference between thoughtful management and legislation. We set trapping season dates to minimize accidental grizzly bear capture, which poses a highly dangerous safety risk to both trapper and unsuspecting hiker. This is not theoretical — grizzly bears have been captured in wolf traps in Montana. Think about a cub capture, with a loose angry mom. We also wanted to limit trapping to leg hold traps to prevent many accidental but lethal captures of deer, moose and elk calves, lynx, cougar, and dogs. Because snares are small, light, and cheap, it would allow for a lot of wire in the woods and thus a lot of “non-target” captures. By their nature, these accidents would be impossible to monitor. Montanans love the outdoors and recreating in the mountains to hunt, hike, bike, horseback, and run with their dogs. 

These bills, individually and collectively, further erode society’s strained views of hunting and trapping that in turn threatens the future of those activities on public and private property. All this harm and risk for an attempt to fix something that’s not real — I guarantee it.

Being a good steward of our wildlife resources is everyone’s job from the professional to the participant. It is also important, especially in these times, to be good stewards of our society. These bills deepen the divide. We should strive for better: something for everyone — like we, the Department, the Commission, and Montanans, have already worked hard to achieve. 

Theodore Roosevelt said it best 105 years ago: “Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying ‘the game belongs to the people.’ So, it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kent Laudon was a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist from 2004 to 2015.

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