This month Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission moved to sharply increase the kill of mountain lions in the state, up to 40 percent of the population in many areas.
The move came over the objections of mountain lion hound hunters, sporting groups, and conservation interests. FWP Biologists did not support this increase. The Commission’s justification was that mountain lions are killing too many big game species and action is needed to recover these populations.
If this sounds familiar, it is. For over two years the Gianforte administration has waged war on carnivore species, wolves, bears, and now mountain lions, under the facade of caring about public hunters and wildlife.
In truth, Montana has abundant big game, and our Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department and Legislature are implementing policies to kill far more deer and elk. In recent years Montana added the ability to kill three elk per year, special seasons, and expanded early and late seasons onto public lands. There is a disconnect between Gianforte’s rhetoric and reality, which begs the question, what’s going on with Montana’s management of wildlife – all wildlife?
Gianforte and his hand-picked Commission have followed suit with other Western states playing the “predator card” as the solution to every wildlife issue. Under the guise of “wildlife management” they change the system to support the killing of more wolves, bears, and lions with the justification that the hunting will be great.
This has resulted in some of the most disgraceful, unethical, and unsporting practices designed to slaughter these species, which are part of our wildlife heritage and valued by Montanans.
For wolves, night shooting, baiting, and snaring is legal. We have massive bag limits, and we’ve gone down the early 20th Century route of paying bounties through a group profiting from those bounties in several states, including with public money.
But what Montana hunters, and all Montanans, don’t see is how these policies play into the commercialization of their wildlife. In Utah, groups like Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and Big Game Forever are fronts that have taken millions of hunter dollars through auction licenses and public payouts, all while promoting their anti-wolf and bear stances. That’s resulted in more hunting for wealthy, guided clients and less for public hunters. Some Commissioners directly benefit from increased carnivore quotas through their outfitting companies, earning seven thousand dollars per lion.
Gianforte is listening to these groups, which is evident in the policies his FWP is implementing.
Our organization will strongly oppose the slaughter of carnivores. The Large Carnivore Fund has the strong scientific background and resources to work toward sustainable solutions for all stakeholders, non-consumptive and consumptive, and sound scientific management of these species. While we acknowledge there will be some hunting of carnivores, what’s going on in the Northern Rockies isn’t fair chase or ethical – it’s persecution intended to drive these species population sizes down to arbitrarily minimum numbers.
Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho are working on doing the same thing to grizzly bears, which for now federal protection has prevented. Decades of work to restore grizzlies would be undone in a couple years.
We appreciate the intrinsic value of carnivores, and the critical role they play in a functioning ecosystem. Having the full suite of predator species on the landscape leads to stronger, more robust and resilient ungulate herds that thrive in Montana.
We hope all Montanans join us in standing up for our wildlife heritage and the values that make Montana, Montana.
Helena Edelson represents Large Carnivore Fund in Montana.