Commentary: Gianforte appointments favor private wildlife, threaten MT heritage

Growing up in rural Utah, I had incredible public hunting opportunities, just like so many in Montana have enjoyed for generations. I spent time with family and friends, pursuing mule deer and elk on both public and private lands in what were the defining moments of my upbringing. 

That all changed when a group called Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife took over my home state’s wildlife agency, and made hunting strictly something for the wealthy. The public gets the crumbs, reduced to a handful of licenses. Even worse, in many hunting areas the public has to buy the license from an adjoining landowner, just to get to hunt on their public lands. 

SFW through its founder Don Peay worked with politicians and instituted transferrable landowner tags. The first year, the public received half and the landowner received half, but the very next year the legislature changed the ratio to 90 percent for the landowner. Then SFW instituted auction tags, conducted at an annual convention in Salt Lake City that is a veritable orgy of big money. SFW keeps 10 percent of the money earned, and has never accounted for where that money goes. The public gets a few dozen tags through an auction. It’s a joke, again favoring the wealthy over the public hunter. 

It became so bad that I moved away from Utah to come to Montana, where a working class guy like myself still has world-class hunting every year. I love Montana, and always will. 

Why is this tale relevant? Because Gov. Gianforte is closely linked with SFW, and other interests bent on making Montana like Utah. He’s signed bills to create landowner tags that favor wealthy landowners like the Wilks Brothers, given outfitters special treatment and appointed members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission who base every decision on the ability of outfitters to sell trophy hunts, at the expense of public hunters. 

This shouldn’t be a surprise to Montana hunters. Last year Gianforte spoke to the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, and basically told them they’d get carte blanche to control Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He installed an FWP director who used to work for outfitters, and has put in Fish and Wildlife commissioners who represent libertarian, commercial and trophy hunting groups that favor giving the wealthy hunting opportunities, while shutting out the public hunter. 

The latest nominee is a prime example. Jana Waller, who was just appointed, lists Sportsmen for
Fish and Wildlife as one of her sponsors. She’s clearly in support of these policies that favor landowner licenses, less public access and ultimately reducing the public hunter to cleaning up cow elk in herds that are overpopulated because of outfitters harboring herds all season. 

Get ready Montana hunters. This last legislative session and this upcoming season setting were merely batting practice for what’s coming. If we don’t push back with a unified voice, groups like SFW will turn Montana into Utah. You’ll look back on the election of Greg Gianforte as the day that your hunting heritage ended for this new model of private wildlife for the wealthy few. 

Tim Roberts, Fort Benton