Senate committee passes bills to make wolf hunting cheaper

Endangered Species Act protections helped gray wolves return to the lower 48 states. (USFWS)

(UM Legislative News Service) The future of the gray wolf in Montana has led to a tug-of-war between conservationists and ranchers over policy proposals in the 2019 legislative session, and both sides have claimed victories.

On Thursday, a Senate committee advanced two House bills that would make wolf hunting licenses cheaper. Rep. Bob Brown, a Republican from Thompson Falls, is carrying House Bill 407  and House Bill 280, which would reduce the licence fee from $19 to $12  and add more of a discount for class AAA combination sports licenses.

“This is an attempt to make your hunting experience a little more affordable and to put more legal wolf hunters out on the range,” Brown said.

A wide variety of proponents were able to agree on these particular bills, including the Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers Association, the Montana Wildlife Federation and the Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

However, Brown has two other wolf-related bills that have been stalled or killed in committee. House Bill 551 would have allowed for wolf hunting at night, and failed to pass the House 56-44. House Bill 279 would have given reimbursements to trappers for fees incurred while trapping wolves, but failed the Senate 23-27, and then was postponed indefinitely.

Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, said during debate on the bill that it would not do anything to help mitigate wolf populations, but makes trapping a contest.

“It has always been unlawful to essentially have a prize for killing animals in the state of Montana, and this would be an exception to this,” Cohenour said.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, wolves were eradicated in Montana by 1930. However, populations have steadily revived over the years due to conservation and reintroduction efforts. Debates have been flaring over how to manage those populations.

Another bill moving through the Legislature would have an interim committee study the cost and value of grizzly bears and wolves in the state. Senate Joint Resolution 7 asks for a committee to weigh the economic benefits of the animals against the threats to agriculture.  

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.