Wildlife advocates ask FWP for better public involvement on wolf plan
(Missoula Current) With plans being made for the future of wolf management, wildlife groups want a seat at the table.
On Tuesday, nine wildlife groups sent a letter to Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Dustin Temple asking for more diverse public involvement in the development of Montana’s updated wolf management plan.
“We’re calling on FWP to steward the wolf population for the public, not just for a loud minority that want wolves ‘managed’ out of existence,” said Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians carnivore coexistence attorney. “So far, the level of public engagement that FWP has provided is the absolute bare minimum for any species, let alone one that inspires such extraordinary public engagement as the gray wolf.”
The groups include WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Clearwater, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Western Watersheds Project, Footloose Montana, Trap Free Montana and Yaak Valley Forest Council. Wolves of the Rockies didn’t sign the letter in time but told the Missoula Current they support the effort.
In January, in response to criticisms that Montana’s 2004 wolf plan was too far out-of-date, Governor Greg Gianforte sent a letter to former FWP Director Hank Worsech, telling him to “collaborate with the citizens of Montana to form a new Wolf Plan.”
On March 22, FWP asked the public to weigh in during a 30-day scoping period on issues they thought important to wolf management. The department hasn’t released its analysis and draft plan yet, but when it does, the public will have another 30 days to comment before the plan is finalized.
The wildlife groups say that’s not enough time for Montanans to help shape a plan that would , and they’re concerned that the department will base its plan only on input from ranchers and hunters.
“Wildlife are held in public trust for all citizens, not just for those who want to exercise their privilege to hunt and fish. Therefore (all citizens) should have the right to exercise their voice in how wildlife, including wolves, should be managed,” said Clint Nagel, Gallatin Wildlife Association president.
The groups are asking that FWP assemble a citizen advisory council to guide formation of the plan; schedule at least 15 meetings for the public interaction on the plan; and lengthen the comment period for the draft plan to 60 days.
Several people already requested the formation of a citizen advisory council during the Aug. 17 FWP commission meeting. They pointed to the advisory councils that were created for the most recent iteration of FWP’s elk plan and the 2004 wolf plan and say the success of those plans is due to the diverse stakeholder groups that were part of the advisory councils.
Montana published its first wolf plan in 2004 after a lengthy public process, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved Montana’s plan before those of Idaho and Wyoming. Unlike Idaho and Wyoming, which categorized wolves as varmints to be shot on sight, the foundations of Montana’s wolf plan recognized that gray wolves are a native species and a part of Montana’s wildlife heritage, and that wolf management should be similar to that of other wildlife species. It also states that management should be adaptive and that conflicts should be addressed and resolved.
Since then, Montana state legislators and the FWP commission have liberalized wolf hunting and trapping regulations to allow techniques, such as snaring or baiting, that aren't fair chase. Still, a small contingent of elk hunters call for Montana to become more like Idaho, which passed a law to kill 90% of its wolves, or Wyoming, which allows wolves to be shot year round in most of the state, so the wolf population can be reduced to the bare minimum.
At the Aug. 17 meeting, Quentin Kujala, FWP Chief of Conservation Policy, said a wolf advisory committee isn’t needed because wolf advocates have the ability to make public comments.
“We look at it as a different kind of need,” Kujala said. “When we hear about (a) diverse work group, the advocacy (for that) is not necessarily a diverse advocacy. We are hearing that from the non-consumptive. There are others in the room - we haven’t heard the call to sit down from some of those other perspectives.”
At least two lawsuits are active related to Montana’s wolf seasons, one in state court and the most recent in federal court. Some of the letter’s signatories are plaintiffs in those lawsuits.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.