Once again, conservationists have been sidestepped by Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The Commission refused to move forward with regulations to remove traps in the Urban Wildland Interface of Missoula; instead delaying discussion until next year. Delay is the FWP way to protect trapping.
FWP is stuck in a time warp and controlled by trappers, trophy hunters and the livestock industry. Last year California joined Arizona, Colorado and Washington ending trapping. The reasons were the decline of trapping and the reality that trapping causes environmental degradation, steep decline of species and massive indiscriminate suffering. Trapping is not, as trappers like to say, simply harvesting a renewable resource.
Montana reintroduces species like beaver, fisher, pine marten and swift fox into areas where they were trapped out so trapping can continue. This is special interest management at our expense.
It’s time to reimagine FWP as a true wildlife first agency, one that acts on scientific studies, not non-peer-reviewed studies manipulated to please special interests. The focus of the agency should be diversity of species, health of habitat and co-existence with humans instead of the steady assault on predator species.
Currently, wildlife is the domain of livestock interests, trappers and trophy hunting organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which, desiring Montana to be a trophy game farm, treats FWP as a subsidiary with extensive financial investment. These special interests dominate FWP meetings; when non-consumptive Montanans speak, it is often with limited time or no time at all. As a former FWP director told my colleague, “This is not a popularity contest. We only have public comment because we have to.”
A re-energized FWP would be conservation-focused, holistic, responsive to the public. All Montanans would fund FWP, not solely hunters and anglers.
That does not mean an end to hunting, far from it. It simply means a larger vision of what wildlife means to society, what it means to the health of our rivers and forests, our prairies. It is a focus on preservation of species and habitat designed to favor wildlife over special interests. The mandate to support all species, always erring on the side of wildlife, would help deter influence by politicians and those that try to control nature.
In a world that is losing species to extinction daily and with only 3% of the world’s wild animals remaining, we cannot afford more destruction of predators for rancher’s desires. Trapping has no place in a modern world; it’s indiscriminate and indefensible. When we kill wolves and disrupt their packs, predation is more likely to occur, yet FWP encourages it. We continue to kill grizzly bears at alarming rates and continue to destroy key habitat to logging and roads, to motorized recreation and snowmobiles. The plight of the grizzly requires far more advocacy and bold action, yet FWP is pushing for a hunting season, when it should be working in support of critical wildlife corridors that give species like grizzly bears the chance at long-term survival.
FWP should support wilderness and other protections for lands and waters that are foundational to good habitat, yet they want to poison streams in the Scapegoat wilderness. A reimagined FWP would continue to remove dams and stand up to the oil industry as it plows across critical habitat. Many in FWP would welcome this change in the mission.
Becoming a wildlife conservation focused agency responsive to the real world we live in now, one that respects sportsmen and their rights, but makes clear its broader mission is wildlife conservation, would be a critical step forward for Montana.
Stephen Capra is executive director of Footloose Montana.
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