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Guest view: Legislature is not qualified to manage wildlife

Guest view: Legislature is not qualified to manage wildlife

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Montana is currently undergoing its 67th legislative session. How invested are you as a resident of Montana in the decisions being made in your name? Unfortunately, what is coming out of the Capitol in Helena is a lot of legislation harmful to wildlife. Much of that is being introduced by a few individuals in support of special-interest groups. It wouldn't surprise us if 90% of the citizens of Montana had no clue as to how these harmful proposals were going to impact wildlife we all have grown to love and respect.

As we look around our world, our country and our community, we see a lot of social ills deserving attention, and there are many. But perhaps that’s the problem, perhaps the majority of us have become jaded, tuned out, distracted. We’re not paying attention to how the natural world around us is changing too, perhaps because of struggles of our own.

Regardless, we say this believing that there is totally a “war on wildlife.” Legislation affecting the “wild” life around us will eventually affect the quality of our own lives. Current legislation will affect the future of wolves, grizzly bears, all kinds of fur-bearing wild creatures, elk, bison and even domestic pets. Much of this legislation has been introduced making it easier to kill, torture or maim our natural heritage. What has become of us when we allow such a gigantic lack of morality to take hold in our society? But then again, look at our society.

All of these bills are in need of public discussion and debate, but they’re not getting it, not to the extent they deserve. Why? One reason is citizen unawareness. The format in the Legislature is not conducive to public awareness, public participation, or scientific reasoning. This is one reason why the Gallatin Wildlife Association (GWA) and Footloose Montana object to settling wildlife management policy through the Legislature.

All of these bills have another problem. They sidestep and remove the scientific decision-making out of the hands of wildlife management agencies and scientists that are equipped with the knowledge and training of how to best manage our wildlife. Instead, they are placing politics above science. What a horrible way to manage our heritage. This is an arrogant and self-serving approach! This also means in order to correct wildlife management problems that will arise from time to time, we must travel back through the legislative process. What a cumbersome and unresponsive way to manage our lands, resources and wildlife.

One bill, HB 367, exemplifies this ill-conceived attempt to manage wildlife through legislation. The bill’s short title provides an insight to its intent: “Revise constitutional language regarding harvest heritage”. It’s a bill showcasing a self-serving ignorance of wildlife ignoring scientific management. It exemplifies our weakening morality! The bill’s intent proclaims that wildlife can be properly managed by guns and traps.

This bill creates a constitutional amendment process whereby if approved by the people of Montana, will establish hunting, fishing and trapping as the preferred method of wildlife management on public lands. Already preserved in Montana’s Constitution, these changes will displace science as our preferred method of management. It would also protect these activities from what may be perceived as unnecessary bans and restrictions even though they could very well be based upon scientific rationale. People of Montana are better than this. This is no longer the middle of the 19th century. These methods are archaic, unscientific and unprincipled.

Our public lands and wildlife belong to all the people. It’s our natural heritage and we all have the right to expect they will be managed by the best available science, common sense in a nonpartisan manner. Individuals and special interests should not be trying to use these lands as a playground for personal exploitation.

We urge the public to search out and investigate the other bad bills before our Legislature: HB 138, 224, 225, 302, 318 and SB 98. There are more. Our wildlife, our state’s economy, and our residents depend upon wise stewardship of our natural environment. If not, we are entering a new age of ecological injustice.

Clint Nagel is president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association. Stephen Capra is executive director of Footloose Montana.

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