70-year-old wanted to ‘wear a coonskin cap, hunt bears, be a real woodsman’ — so he did

Biggest muley
Bill Butler shot this mule deer northwest of Hermosillo, Mexico, about 750 miles south of his Wyoming home. The buck’s antlers measured 36 inches wide and had a gross score of more than 195. He collected the trophy animal just days shy of his 70th birthday.

Courtesy photo

Five days short of his 70th birthday last year, Bill Butler shot the biggest mule deer of his long hunting life.

That’s saying something for a guy who literally wrote the book on “The Versatile Trophy Hunter.”

“I’m getting old, but I’m still poking around,” he said.

His love for hunting started when he was just a boy. That was when he developed an “intense instinct and desire.”

“I’ve slacked off a bit as I’ve gotten older, but I still like to get a good animal,” he said.

As if to prove the fact, on Sept. 5 he shot the largest bull elk of his life, which green scored 352 gross and had a 54-inch main beam. He shot the 8×6 elk from a ground blind at 325 yards. He would have preferred to stalk the bull, but with so many other elk in the area, he had little choice.

Montana boy

Bill grew up in Silesia, Montana, hunting with his father, Jim Butler, as soon as he passed Hunter Education at age 12. A photo in his book shows him looking a little unhappy at that age. His father balances a rifle and his right foot on the bumper of a car while draping an arm around his son. An antelope’s leg can be seen sticking out of the trunk. Bill wears a Davy Crockett shirt in the photo, a figure idolized by the youngster in 1958.

“I wanted to wear a coonskin cap, hunt bears, be a real woodsman, and wander throughout the wilderness when I grew up,” Bill wrote in the photo caption.

And he did.

“Growing up through high school, my brothers and I hunted as intensely as young wolves, taking many deer and antelope,” Bill wrote. “Soon we were shooting the legal limit of two deer each. We had more than enough meat to eat at home and supplied several neighbors, also.”

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Bill's big whitetail
While hunting in Saskatchewan, Butler found this big whitetail on Dec. 1, 2016. The buck gross scored 169.

Courtesy photo

Outfitting

After high school Bill started guiding hunters, including difficult backpacking trips for bighorn sheep in remote and lofty portions of the Beartooth Mountains. Just hiking to the locations would be a 15- to 20-mile trip, he said. The outings paid off in five bighorn sheep for him, in addition to those he guided clients to.

“I carried 120 pounds for two days one time when I guided for a hunter,” Bill said, packing out their camping gear and the hunter’s sheep. “Now I don’t have any cartilage between my discs in my lower back.”

After 20 years of guiding in Montana, he hung up his license in 1986. He was 40 years old, had a pickup he still owed $6,000 on and no money in the bank. Yet he quickly transitioned to a new adventure, marrying Diana Wolff. Together they bought 86 acres in Wyoming and opened a guest ranch and started raising bucking bulls for the rodeo circuit.

Diana, 12 years his junior, said it’s a family joke that a month after getting married Bill took off on his honeymoon — without her — to hunt in Alaska for four weeks.

“Hunting is in Bill’s blood,” she said. “I knew who he was when I married him.”

Instead of children, they’ve raised a lot of livestock and dogs. That’s now dwindled down to three horses, three longhorn steers and six dogs.

Hard knocks

Bill even rode bulls for a while, but over a lifetime of active living, the injuries have added up. He’s torn the meniscus in both knees, has a 4-inch titanium rod and shoulder ball because he had dislocated it so much. He still carries around part of a .22 bullet in his shin after he dropped his Ruger Bearcat pistol which discharged and shot him. Then in 2013 he suffered a massive stroke.

“I was given the ‘wonder drug’ tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) which saved my life and left me with no ill effects of a stroke,” he wrote in a text.

But Diana said the doctor warned her before prescribing the medicine that there was also a chance Bill could bleed to death when given the drug. Although he was paralyzed on his left side and couldn’t talk in a way that Diana and the doctor could understand him, he agreed to risk trying the drug.

“That’s no life, not for a guy like Bill,” Diana said of the possibility that he might be permanently paralyzed. “Afterward, he got to thinking about it and said it was like riding a bucking bull. You nod your head and you might die before the ride is over.”

While being treated for the stroke, his doctor told him there was evidence of a previous stroke and that he “could die any day of another one.”

“I would say he’s more reflective on his life now,” Diana said. “He’s probably paying a little bit more attention to the things he wants to do.”

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Biggest elk
Butler had been scouting elk prior to the season but this big bull showed up much later. The bull is the largest Butler has ever shot.

Courtesy photo

Back in the saddle

Such a blunt confrontation with his mortality prompted Bill to lose weight, take dietary supplements and begin a daily regimen of walking.

“I’ve been walking all my life,” he said. And he competed in track when in high school.

It was Bill’s youthful brush with track that prompted him to enter the Big Sky State Games. In the last four years he’s won 29 medals, five gold medals in 2017 and in July set the pole vault record for his 70 to 74 age class — 4-feet-9 inches.

Bill and Diana both took instruction from Cody high school track coach Scott Shaffer in June to get tuned up for this year’s event. The pole vaulters were the oldest he’d ever taught, yet they easily mixed with their teenage counterparts.

“When I first found out about it I was kind of expecting a little wiry guy,” Shaffer said. “But then I saw him and thought, ‘Oh my god, I hope it’s not him cause he’s a huge dude!’”

Bill is 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 241 pounds.

New goals

Just like his verve for hunting, Bill took to pole vaulting with the same determination.

“I’m fairly competitive too,” Diana said. “If Bill wants to do something, he does it to the Nth degree.”

“He wanted to do 50 jumps, I wanted him to do five,” Shaffer said. “He wanted to come back the next day, I wanted him to wait a week.”

But waiting or taking things easy just isn’t in Bill’s DNA, whether he’s raising bulls or hunting, everything is full tilt and all in.

“He’s not one of those guys sitting on the couch getting old and watching TV,” Shaffer said. “He’s going toe to toe with Father Time every day.”

Diana agreed. Even though she was hesitant about letting Bill drive 750 miles to Mexico for last year’s mule deer hunt, and also to drive north about the same distance to hunt whitetails, she said it wouldn’t have been fair to ask him not to go.

“I was very worried, but I don’t want him sitting here in the rocking chair and dying,” she said. “I know he’d be a lot happier dying out in nature.”

Bill doesn’t envision himself kicking the bucket anytime soon. Instead, he’s set his eyes on the prize of setting records in the Big Sky State Games track and field events when he’s 90.

“The more intense you hunt the better you do,” Bill said. “It’s the same with anything.”

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Court Helps Cabinet Yaak Grizzlies, Again: Time for Fish and Wildlife Service to Do Better

https://www.grizzlytimes.org/single-post/2017/08/29/Court-Helps-Cabinet-Yaak-Grizzlies-Again-Time-for-Fish-and-Wildlife-Service-to-Do-Better

August 29, 2017

|

Louisa Willcox

Grizzlies in the remote Cabinet Yaak ecosystem in northwest Montana are literally on death’s doorstep, numbering less than 50 grizzlies – less than half of the FWS’ absurdly small recovery goal of 100 bears.  Making matters worse, since this population was listed as threatened in 1975 (along with other grizzlies in the lower-48 states), grizzlies have been functionally split between the northern Yaak region and the southern Cabinet Mountains; there has been no movement of grizzly bears between these isolated segments for many years. The reason? Excessive killing, particularly poaching, and the press of human activity.

The listed status of the population matters. If Cabinet Yaak grizzlies are given the more stringent “endangered” protections, the FWS will have to designate critical habitat for them. One major reason that the population is doing so poorly is habitat degradation. Excessive road networks on the Kootenai Forest, built to cut down the huge trees in this lush landscape, allow easy entry for poachers, who constitute the leading cause of death in this population. By contrast, poaching is not nearly as severe a problem in the two wilderness-based strongholds for grizzlies around Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), centered on Glacier Park.

 Christiansen’s Ruling: The Context

In 2014, FWS had downgraded the Cabinet Yaak population from a “warranted, but precluded” endangered status, meaning that the population deserved greater protections, but that FWS could not deal with the problem due to other priorities that it deemed more important. These greater protections had been granted by a judge in 1993 as a result of litigation by conservationists.

To justify its defiance of the judge’s earlier ruling, the FWS relied on a 2010 determination that it used to dodge listing the polar bear as endangered, despite the fact that global warming has been ferociously melting sea ice needed by polar bears to hunt seals. In this case a judge allowed the FWS to interpret “in danger of extinction” as meaning “on the brink of extinction,” with the proviso that this interpretation applied only to the special circumstances of polar bears.

Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2014 threats to Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies from roadbuilding, human settlement, and poaching mounted. The situation is so dire for these bears that the FWS regularly augments the population by bringing in grizzlies from the NCDE population. More on this later.

Nevertheless, the FWS wanted to downgrade the population’s status so that it would not have to make hard decisions that would challenge powerful status quo interests in the logging and mining industries. At the same time, the agency greenlighted a Forest Service plan that instituted weaker standards for managing roads in the Cabinet-Yaak compared to  those applied to grizzly habitat in Greater Yellowstone and the NCDE, both of which support 10-15 times more grizzlies. Stringent management of roads in these better-protected ecosystems is seen as key to the progress made toward population recovery.

Christensen determined that the FWS’ downgrading of protections for the Cabinet-Yaak’s grizzlies was “arbitrary and capricious.” He said: “There is no evidence… to suggest that the agency found that the change in policy was permissible under the Endangered Species Act, believed that the new policy was better than the agencies’ prior interpretations, or otherwise provided a good reason for the change.” (link)

Michael Garrity, Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, which brought the case to court, wryly observed that, instead of redoubling efforts to protect and restore habitat and reduce mortalities, the FWS has spent the better part of the last two decades dragging its feet.

Second Positive Court Ruling for Cabinet Yaak Grizzlies in a Year

Judge Christiansen’s ruling is the second in a year in aid of the Cabinet-Yaak’s beleaguered grizzlies. In May, 2016, Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch rocked the grizzly bear world by sentencing a man to six months in federal prison for poaching a threatened grizzly bear in the Cabinet Yaak ecosystem (link).

Although the additional fine of $5,000 was stiff but not unusual for violations of the ESA, jail time is unheard of as a penalty for any imperiled species, let alone grizzly bears. There has never been a louder message to would-be poachers that federal officials are taking their duty to protect endangered species seriously.

The facts of this case showed that the killing was not in self-defense, but rather as a malicious lark. Shaloko Katzer of Mead, Washington followed a grizzly, then shot and killed it in the Yaak Falls campground in July, 2015.

Judge Lynch was unusually clear about his intentions when he addressed Katzer during sentencing, saying: “You went out of your way to kill this bear. But the most important thing is this is going to stop. And, unfortunately, you may be the first example, but the unnecessary killing of these threatened species is going to stop. And you, sentencing you to this is necessary to deter all those individuals who might undertake or engage in the same conduct of I guess what they might consider a sport.” (link)

Lynch and Christensen are not the only judges to have ruled in favor of grizzly bears. In fact, during the last 25 years, Courts have determined on at least 20 occasions that more needs to be done to advance recovery of threatened grizzly bears, which for the last 50 years have remained at a mere 2-3% of their former numbers.

Yet, so often, the FWS would rather do nothing and lose again in court than work to get recovery right, especially in the case of Cabinet Yaak grizzlies. The agency seems to care more about minimizing political risks to its funding and prerogatives, which admittedly are considerable, rather than fulfilling its public trust responsibilities by aggressively recovering a charismatic endangered species for the benefit of all Americans.

And, time may not be on the side of the few surviving bears in the Cabinet Yaak.

Time is Running Out for Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk Grizzlies

For decades, the FWS’ top priority has been stripping Yellowstone’s grizzlies of their endangered species protections, which happened for the second time in June of this year. Removing protections for grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem is the agency’s next goal; a delisting proposal is expected for the NCDE in 2018.

The FWS’ focus on eviscerating protections for these larger populations has come at the additional expense of grizzlies that are on the ropes — not only in the Cabinet Yaak, but its neighbor to the west in Idaho, the Selkirks.  The Selkirks, a similarly small ecosystem that also straddles the Canadian border, and supports perhaps 50 animals on the US side.

Given the small size of these populations, the slide to extinction could be relatively quick, as these bears are not far from zero now. Grizzlies have extremely low reproduction rates, which makes recovery much more difficult. There are only a handful of reproductive females in each ecosystem, and the loss of even one of these females could be devastating.

It is impossible to overstate the level of threat facing Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies.  Sadly, there is no designated Wilderness in the Yaak area, and, the Cabinet Mountains are long and skinny, giving people easy access to even the farthest reaches of these scant wildlands. Only a small portion of the Selkirks is protected Wilderness.

There is no portion of either ecosystem protected by a National Park, which is why you may have never heard of them. That matters, because in Yellowstone, Glacier and, seasonally, Grand Teton Parks, grizzly bears are protected from people with guns. This alone has made a huge difference to recovering grizzly bears.

Both the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems are hammered by logging roads.  The Canada side of the ecosystem is pretty beat up too – making bears more or less isolated from larger populations on all sides.

Adding insult to injury, two hard rock mines are poised to hemi-sect the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. If the Rock Creek Mine is built on the west side of the Cabinets and the Montanore mine on the east, the ability of grizzly bear to travel from the north to the southern third of the bear’s range would be seriously compromised. Even the FWS has admitted that these mines, if built at the same time (which is now proposed), would be the last nails in the coffin for this population. So far, litigation brought by conservation groups (does this sound like a theme?) has forestalled these mines.

As I mentioned earlier, prospects even under the current conditions are so bleak that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has resorted to dumping grizzly bears from the healthier Glacier population into the Cabinet-Yaak to prevent the population from winking out. Still, out of 17 grizzly bears that have been relocated during the last 15 years, only three have been known to contribute genes to the population.

All is not lost, however, for the habitat, with its Pacific maritime influence, is incredibly productive, with berries that Yellowstone grizzly bears could only dream of.  There is hope, if the thugs stop killing bears, as the ESA requires, and if enough habitat is protected.

Uplisting the Cabinet Yaak and Selkirk populations to endangered status and designating critical habitat for these bears could prompt needed restoration and make habitat more secure for grizzlies.  Stiffer penalties and more aggressive prosecution of poaching cases could also reduce malicious killing. Better coexistence practice could reduce conflicts. Proven methods include running electric fence around beehives and chicken coops, and installing bear resistant garbage bins around home sites.

Not doing stupid, harmful stuff would also help enormously.

Now for the Dumbest Idea Ever: New, High-Use Hiking Trail Through the Heart of the Yaak

Just as you think things cannot get worse for Cabinet Yaak grizzlies, the Forest Service has proposed a new high use hiking trail through the heart of the wildest part of the Yaak. The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail would run 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park to Port Townsend, Washington, tying into the popular Pacific Crest Trail.

As many as 4,000 hikers are expected to blast through the bear-iest habitat in the Yaak – many undoubtedly oblivious to bears as they listen to tunes on headsets, as is the custom on the Pacific Crest Trail. The likelihood of negative consequences is high as hikers displace bears and increase the chance of conflicts with bears.

Local conservationists, including the prolific writer Rick Bass, have suggested an alternative route that avoids this refugium, a measure also supported by preeminent grizzly bear scientist Chuck Jonkel, who passed away last year (link). But, a crazy rider to a 2009 spending bill sponsored by Norm Dix, former Congressman from Washington, authorized the trail.

While the Forest Service can still say “no” to the current route, the agency is reluctant to change course. Meanwhile a trail advocacy group, Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA), has been bullying the government to push the process through. “The trail is coming whether you like it or not,” said Jeff Kish of PTNA to Jessie Grossman of the local conservation group Yaak Valley Forest Council in a recent conversation.

Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies need more, not less habitat. This issue is a no brainer: the Forest Service and FWS should simply re-route the trail so as to minimize impacts on grizzlies. But, then, both agencies love to say “yes” to every development proposal that crosses their desk.

It is true, too, that avoiding stupid stuff like the Yaak trail won’t achieve recovery, which entails doubling the size of the population. For that, we need a bigger picture approach.

Yellowstone and Cabinet Yaak, Selkirks Grizzly Bears Need Each Other

We tend to talk about the Greater Yellowstone, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirks and Glacier, as if they are separate grizzly bear planets. They aren’t. They simply represent bears in the last bits of land where grizzly bears survived when the FWS got around to listing them in 1975. These ecosystems represented the small remnants of what had been one more or less contiguous grizzly bear population that stretched from the Great Plains to the Pacific coast and south to Mexico.

Despite all the work since 1975 to recover grizzlies, they still constitute only 3% of their former numbers. While scientists say that continued isolation is a serious problem for all these populations, FWS still treats them as separate postage stamps.

Geneticists tell us that Yellowstone bears will be forever at risk genetically if they stay isolated in their current ecological island. Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk grizzly bears cannot stay isolated either if their future is to be ensured. All must be connected to each other and to larger populations in Canada. The government knows this, but it is too darn difficult to talk about such a big vision in such a mean-spirited, anti-science, political climate.

Many experts say that for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears to connect with bears elsewhere, the best route is through the Selway Bitterroot ecosystem north through, yes you guessed it, the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.  This means that grizzly bears must be recovered in Idaho’s vast Selway Bitterroot ecosystem, which scientists say could support 600 or so grizzlies.

But the lynchpin for recovery is the largest grizzly bear population, centered on Glacier Park, with perhaps 900 or so bears.  Although only four grizzly bears are known to have moved on their own from this ecosystem to the Cabinet-Yaak and stay there, more could do so in the future if habitat is protected and bears are not killed. Grizzlies are also moving south towards Yellowstone, and into the north end of the Selway Bitterroot recovery area. Meanwhile, they are moving east, recolonizing prairie habitat.

Grizzly bears are showing the way to recovery with their paws. From Yellowstone, bears are moving further west along the Centennial Range towards the Selway Bitteroot. Individuals have moved south from the Cabinets as well. Grizzlies, probably from the NCDE, have shown up this summer in the Big Belt Mountains, about 100 miles north of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They are connecting on their own, if we don’t kill them.

Instead of treating the five remaining grizzly bear populations as isolated islands, the FWS should look at opportunities to achieve durable recovery through expanding secure habitat by restoration and improved co-existence practices. The 1992 recovery plan, which ignored the pressing issue of climate change and gave short shrift to connectivity, is in sore need of revision. This is the place to reimagine recovery and the possibilities of creating a large contiguous population of grizzlies in our northern Rockies.

Instead of dragging their feet until they are sued again and spanked by judges, the FWS and Forest Service should show a little courage and exercise leadership – for the bears and all the rest of us.

Please do what you can to help Cabinet Yaak grizzlies: tell the Forest Service to re-route the Pacific Northwest Trail to avoid the heart of the Yaak. Send an email to mtmcgrath@fs.fed.us, and send a copy to info@yaakvalley.org. The Yaak Valley Forest Council (www.yaakvalley.org) is leading the fight against this idiotic trail. You can help stop the disastrous Rock Creek mine by supporting Rock Creek Alliance (www.rockcreekalliance.org). And the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (www.allianceforthewildrockies.org)  brought the latest uplisting case — stay tuned for more chapters on this drama.

Please Sign on for 24 hour Mandated Trap Checks!

Will you please add your name to a letter, that our friend, Zack Strong, of NRDC, so diligently compiled, insisting Montana implement a 24 hour mandated trap check time period?

Montanans, in particular, are asked to sign as FWP continually emphasizes out of state comments as if Montanans don’t care!

Simply reply to this alert and provide:

  • your name
  • your town and state

Also requested, but not required:

  • your occupation, especially if in wildlife, animal, or science related professions

We will then see that you are included on the letter to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks before the deadline for the 2017 Trapping Proposals

Please reply before July 13!

Feel free to pass this on so others can sign on, too! A very big thank you, to Zack, for his dedication and persistence!

Everyone, PLEASE don’t forget to submit your comment on ALL the Montana 2017 trapping proposals before the July 16 5pm mst deadline.

GRIZZLY BEARS INCH CLOSER TO GREAT FALLS, MONTANA

On June 1, a pair of young grizzlies turned up at the mouth of Box Elder Creek, where it enters the south side of the Missouri River. That’s 12 miles northeast of Great Falls—and roughly where Pvt. Hugh McNeal, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, ran into a grizzly bear in July 1806, when the expedition passed through the area on its homeward journey.

Grizzlies getting closer to old Great Falls stomping grounds


CLOSE Grizzly bears are inching closer to Great Falls, Montana’s third largest city, where two centuries ago they…www.greatfallstribune.com

It’s just the natural expansion of a healthy, growing grizzly bear population that’s putting them in closer proximity to people, FWP’s [Mike] Madel said.

“I think these bears are searching for areas to develop new home ranges,” he said.

Historically, grizzly bears occupied grasslands like Great Falls all the way to the Mississippi River but they’ve been gone for more than 100 years.

In recent years, grizzly bears have been traveling river corridors like the Sun, Marias, Dearborn and Teton rivers east of the Rocky Mountain Front to the high plains.

The expansion onto the plains has come as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population of grizzly bears of northwestern and northcentral Montana continues to recover.

The population, currently listed as threatened, is more than 1,000 bears and growing at about 2 percent a year.

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*ey8anzoCPb0Mw1OlwTXsrQ.png

Grizzly killing near Missoula

A black-bear hunter reportedly killed a large grizzly bear in the hills 5 miles northeast of Missoula on May 16, but federal wildlife officials have released few details about the incident.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with its partners at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, is actively investigating the self-reported killing of a grizzly bear by a black bear hunter in the Johnson Creek drainage near Bonner,” FWS spokesman Ryan Moehring wrote in a press release on Tuesday.

“This is an active, ongoing investigation and the Service will share more information with the public when the circumstances of the case permit.”

 That wasn’t much comfort to Andy Lennox, who lives at the base of Johnson Creek and heard about the incident second-hand.

“That’s right behind my house,” said Lennox, who’s lived along the Blackfoot River a mile north of Bonner for 30 years. “And this spring bear hunt is crazy anyway. Lots of hunters can’t tell difference between bears. This could be female with cubs, in which case they just killed two, three or four bears. This was almost two weeks ago, and the Fish and Wildlife Service never came by to let me know what’s going on. It’s like it’s some kind of big secret. That’s weird as hell.”

“Grizzly bears are a listed species (protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act), so there’s no surprise there’s federal involvement in a grizzly shooting,” Moehring said. “Whenever there’s been an incident like this, the Fish and Wildlife Service has an active role to play.”

Montana’s spring black-bear hunting season started on April 15 and closes in the Missoula area on June 15. Hunters must pass a test certifying they can tell the difference between black and grizzly bears in order to purchase a hunting license.

About 1,000 grizzly bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem that extends from the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula to the northern border of Glacier National Park. While wildlife researchers have occasionally tracked grizzlies traveling around the fringe of the Missoula Valley, the big bears have rarely been sighted south of the Mission Mountains or Bob Marshall wilderness areas.

Wildlife advocates see wolves as ‘best natural defense’ against chronic wasting disease

http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/wildlife-advocates-see-wolves-as-best-natural-defense-against-chronic/article_9ab09c2c-03f9-57cb-bda7-4453a1ab7a39.html

  • BRETT FRENCH For the Star-Tribune
  • Apr 17, 2017

BILLINGS, Montana – Wolves are the perfect animal to help reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease among elk, deer and moose, wolf advocates told the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission last week during the board’s meeting in Helena.

“And it doesn’t cost us anything,” said Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies.

Cooke’s comment Friday was later endorsed by former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gary Wolfe, who was once the program leader for the CWD Alliance, which tracks and provides information on the fatal disease.

“I would have to agree that wolves can be an effective control,” Wolfe said. “They are the best natural defense Montana has.”

Legislature

The comments come as the Montana Legislature is considering Senate Joint Resolution 9, introduced by Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, that would request a study of the potential impacts of and methods to prevent chronic wasting disease in Montana. The measure already passed the Senate and is now moving through the House.

Phillips also introduced SJ8, which would have asked Wyoming to discontinue artificial feeding of elk, a place where diseases like CWD could quickly spread. That resolution was tabled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee after clearing the full Senate with a 50-0 vote.

Spreading

Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread in Montana’s neighbor to the south. In late March the Wyoming Game and Fish Department reported officials had detected CWD in a female mule deer found dead near the Pinedale airport in February, the first case of CWD found in Sublette County, which is home to 13 elk feedgrounds.

CWD map

“This deer was found in Deer Hunt Area 139, where CWD has not been previously discovered, and is not adjacent to any other positive CWD deer, elk or moose hunt areas,” according to a WDGF news release.

The discovery prompted the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter and to issue a public plea this week to “begin phasing out winter feeding of elk to prevent the rapid spread of disease among elk densely concentrated on feed lines for months each winter,” the groups wrote in a press release.

“It is incumbent upon state officials, as well as managers of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, to implement a realistic plan to phase out artificial winter feeding now,” said Roger Hayden, WWA executive director. “Once CWD reaches feedgrounds we likely will have a more serious problem on our hands. We need to act now.”

Elk fears

CWD was first discovered in Wyoming in 1985 when a mule deer in the southeastern corner of the state tested positive. Since then the disease, which affects the animals’ brains and is always fatal, has slowly spread north and west.

“Over the past 20 years surveillance data has shown an increase in prevalence and distribution of CWD in Wyoming, particularly in deer,” according to the WGFD. “CWD is now found across the majority of the state, with new detections suggesting continued westward spread of the disease.”

CWD has never been detected in wildlife in Montana, except in a captive elk herd that was destroyed. However, the disease has been discovered in the Dakotas and Canada, as well as Wyoming, which all border Montana.

Could wolves become an unexpected ally in protecting Montana’s most popular big game animals? That would be a hard reality to swallow for some hunters and hunting groups who have long opposed the large canines’ reintroduction to Yellowstone and spread into Montana.

Elk Hunting Group Wants to Expand Wolf-Killing Derby into Montana: $1,000 Bounty per Wolf

http://www.environews.tv/040717-elk-hunting-group-wants-expand-wolf-killing-derby-montana-1000-bounty-per-wolf/

enviroNews Montana) — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), which has funded wolf-killing derbies in Idaho to the tune of $150,000 since 2013, is now seeking to expand its $1,000-per-kill bounty program to the neighboring state of Montana.

RMEF provides funds to the Foundation for Wildlife Management (F4WM), which says its mission “is to promote ungulate population recovery in areas negatively impacted by wolves.” While F4WM is based in Idaho, RMEF is stationed in Montana. F4WM held a meeting on April 5 in Sandpoint, Idaho, in an attempt to drum up support for the expanded bounty program. On April 6, Justin Webb, Mission Advancement Director for F4WM, wrote on the group’s Facebook page, “We had several folks from Montana expressing interest in F4WM expanding into Montana, and all were willing to help create Montana funding!”

Webb cautioned however, that it might take some time to determine if F4WM will go ahead with the effort. “[We] should be able to announce yay or nay on an F4WM expansion into Montana within a couple weeks. We have some business operational hurdles to work through, and fine tuning the legistics [sic] of the expansion.”

“These wolf lottery efforts are dismantling a century-long conservation heritage that is shared not just with environmental groups but with a lot of sportsmen groups as well,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director for the Western Watersheds Project, in an exclusive interview with EnviroNews.

F4WM’s sole sponsor is RMEF. The group published an open letter to President Donald Trump on its website, calling the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone and Idaho “illegal” and telling the President that this “was one extreme criminal act of fraud and theft committed under the administration of William Jefferson Clinton that truly needs to be revisited.”

In 2012, Montana elk hunter Dave Stalling wrote in an op-ed for High Country News about what he described as the RMEF’s “all-out war against wolves.” Stalling worked previously for RMEF and saw changes that he linked to the hiring of David Allen as its director. Today, Allen is President and Chief Executive Officer at RMEF. Allen has supported the delisting of wolves as an endangered species in both Wyoming and Oregon.

“This is an organization that has always been at the fringes of the conservation movement,” said Molvar. “Basically, they are really anti-conservationists in disguise.”

In Idaho, the Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), which regulates hunting in the state, is beset with a funding scandal. An op-ed authored by local hunter Dave Cappell in the January 14, 2017 Idaho State Journal, alleges that two IDFG commissioners were told their terms would not be renewed so that new commissioners, who would approve a system of auction tags for game hunters, could be appointed.

IDFG relies on hunting fees for one-third of its budget. Faced with license fees that have not increased since 2005, the Department has looked at alternative strategies including salary savings.

The 2015 population of wolves in Idaho was documented as 786 animals. During the same year, humans were responsible for the death of 352 wolves, including legal hunting and trapping that took 256 animals. IDFG allows each hunter or trapper to take up to five wolves per year. Wolves may not be baited but electronic calls can be used.

In Montana, where hunting, fishing and other recreational activity fees account for more than two-thirds of the budget for the state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 246 wolves were harvested in 2016. License fees have been increased recently, but are still not sufficient to cover expenses.

Wolf culls are seen as a way to increase the elk population, providing more game for hunters and more license fees for states. But Molvar holds a different view, telling EnviroNews, “There is no place in responsible wildlife management for this kind of killing for fun and money.”
But slaughtering wolves is not just limited to Idaho and Montana. This week, federal legislation signed into law by President Trump will allow the killing of wolves with pups in their dens on wildlife refuges in the state of Alaska, while in California, a lawsuit has been filed by the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau challenging the listing of gray wolves as endangered in the Golden State. Only a handful of specimens have been seen in California since OR-7, a lone wolf from Oregon, arrived in 2011. Prior to that, no wolves were known to be in the state since 1924.

RMEF is steadfast in its opposition to wolves. According to a position statement on its website:

“RMEF will continue to advocate for predator management and control efforts on the ground and in the courts. RMEF will fund continuing research projects, work with Congress and state agencies, track legislative matters, educate hunters and the public, and rally members on predator-related issues so all wildlife populations can be sustained forever. RMEF supports major legislation in Congress that would reinstate the previous U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service wolf delisting rule in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming.”

Molvar disagrees with that statement and says, “The wolf belongs in Western ecosystems. The RMEF is trying to set back conservation 150 years.”

 

SB236 Trapping Bill Hearing in MT House Committee

From: Friends of Trap Free Montana Public Lands

If SB236 passes in this committee, it will go before the whole Montana House of Representatives. In order for SB236 to get on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, Senator Fielder will now need 70 of the 100 Representatives to vote for it.

SB236 reads as follows:

THE CITIZENS OF MONTANA HAVE THE RIGHT TO HUNT, FISH, TRAP, AND HARVEST WILD FISH AND WILDLIFE, INCLUDING THE USE OF CUSTOMARY MEANS AND METHODS. HUNTING, FISHING, AND TRAPPING BY CITIZENS IS THE PREFERRED MANNER OF MANAGING WILD FISH AND WILDLIFE AND IS SUBJECT TO NECESSARY AND PROPER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION STATUTES ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE AND REGULATORY AUTHORITY DELEGATED BY THE LEGISLATURE TO A DESIGNATED PUBLIC AGENCY OR COMMISSION. THE RIGHT TO HARVEST WILD FISH AND WILDLIFE IS A HERITAGE THAT SHALL FOREVER BE PRESERVED TO THE INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS OF THE STATE AND DOES NOT CREATE A RIGHT TO TRESPASS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY OR A DIMINUTION OF OTHER PRIVATE RIGHTS.”

•    Amending our constitution should not be taken lightly or rushed.

•    The purpose of this bill is  to enshrine trapping into our constitution. In 2004, we overwhelmingly voted to add to our Montana constitution the opportunity to preserve hunting and fishing forever more.

•    Requiring the preferred method for wildlife management to be hunting, fishing and trapping shuts out the non-consumptive wildlife user. Wildlife watching is a significant financial contributor to our economy from residents and visitors, alike.

•    The bill negates respectful coexistence, implementation of preventative non-lethal management tools and the intrinsic value and management needs for ALL wildlife.

•    The goal of this bill is to eliminate any wildlife ballot initiatives and put the legislature in charge of wildlife and for them to determine who then manages wildlife.

•    The intent of this bill is to put wildlife management further into the secreted hands of trappers rather than Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists.

•    The motivation of this bill is consistent to Senator’s Fielder’s position on seizing control of our public lands.

Like Senator Fielder and her allie’s goal for our public lands, the goal of SB236 is not for the greater good or for wildlife. It’s for the control, personal gain and exploitation of them both.

Trapping uses lures, bait and takes advantage of animal’s basic needs for shelter, water, territory. In the same vein, SB236 attempts to lure supporters in.

Those that oppose are criticized including Democrats, our Governor and the wildlife managing agency, FWP. Regarding the Senate vote on SB236:

“I think they were under orders not to vote for it. Orders probably coming out of the governor’s office because his office and Montana Fish Wildlife and parks are lobbying hard against it to keep this issue from coming before the voters.”  ~ Senator Fielder

For the record, 2 Republicans voted against SB236 in the Senate. We thank them and all who did, for whatever reasoning, they were right to do so!

Referendum to make hunting, fishing, trapping a constitutional right garners support from 30 senators

A majority of Montana’s state senators backed a measure to ask voters to decide whether hunting, fishing and trapping should become constitutional rights in the 2018 general election.

Senate Bill 236, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, would create a ballot initiative to put in Montana’s constitution the right for Montana citizens to hunt, fish and trap. Measures that ask for a ballot initiative require 100 votes total between the Senate and the House and don’t need the governor’s signature.

In an initial vote on Monday, 30 Senators supported the bill. It faces a final Senate vote on Tuesday — the vote that will actually count toward the 100 necessary.

 Fielder said the bill will strengthen the state constitution’s protections for these activities.

“The language in the existing Montana constitution is unclear,” Fielder said.

She also said strengthening the language will help fight off future attempts to limit hunting or trapping in the state, such as the ballot measure voters rejected in November to ban trapping on public lands.

But opponents of the bill said the protections within the constitution are strong enough and that the failure of the trapping initiative last fall shows that the activity isn’t in serious danger.

“We don’t need to change something that already works,” said Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman.

In a February committee hearing, the bill garnered support from the Montana Trappers Association and the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, among others. A number of conservation groups and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks opposed it.

The bill was amended slightly before being sent out of the Senate Fish and Game committee on a 6-5 vote. The amendment turned some opposition into support — namely, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — but it didn’t eliminate all opposition.

Nick Gevock, the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, said his group still opposes the measure because they believe changing the constitution requires more careful consideration than can be found in the “hurried emotion of a 90-day legislative session.”

On the Senate floor Monday, Fielder said the bill is similar to laws passed in 14 other states, including Idaho. In a post on its website, the National Conference of State Legislatures says {a style=”font-size: 12px;” href=”http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/state-constitutional-right-to-hunt-and-fish.aspx#5” target=”_blank”}21 states{/a} across the country guarantee the right to hunt and fish, including Montana.

Montana’s current law guarantees the “opportunity” to hunt, and Fielder’s bill would change that word to “right,” which she said has a more clear legal definition.

“It’s time for Montana to step up,” she said.

But some worry that the change could upend wildlife management within the state. An internal memo from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks provided to the Chronicle said the bill would endanger the state’s ability to charge residents and nonresidents different prices for hunting and fishing licenses. The memo says the change would likely draw a legal challenge and that a court might find that the state is discriminating against non-residents by charging them higher license fees.

Phillips mentioned this on the Senate floor Monday, saying the change could result in the state “giving the deal of the century to nonresidents” by lowering out-of-state license fees.

“If you feel lucky in court, vote for 236,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, and Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, joined the Senate’s 18 Democrats in voting against the bill. The measure will need 70 votes in the House to pass, which means that even if all Republicans support it, they will need at least 11 votes from Democrats. Two House Democrats are listed as sponsors of the bill — Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder and Rep. Brad Hamlett of Cascade.

 

Stop Montana Senate Bill 236

For once the NRB listened to the citizens. There is a first time for everything.

Your immediate action is needed to stop Montana Senate Bill 236 that will make trapping permanently protected in our Montana Constitution

  • A public Committee hearing on Senate Bill SB236 will be held this Thursday, 2/16.
  • Our hope is to kill SB236 in Committee by urging Committee members to vote against the bill.   
  • If the Committee passes SB236, the bill will go to the full Senate for a vote, after which it will need approval from 2/3 of the legislature to send it to the Montana voters in 2018 to change the MT Constitution.
  • Trappers have unlimited out-of-state funds to sway voters during a campaign.  We can’t let that happen.

How to Help:

  • Testify in person against SB236 in the Senate Fish & Game Committee.
    • We need as many anti-trapping people in the Committee chamber as possible.
    • Please let us know if you can be at the hearing (Th, 3PM, Capitol Bldg. Rm. 422).
    • We will provide pointers on how to testify effectively.
    • We may be able to arrange carpooling.
  • Email Senators on the Committee and urge them to VOTE NO on SB236.
    • Use links and reasons to VOTE NO provided below.
    • Please let us know whom you have emailed so we can track feedback given to the Committee.
    • If possible, please forward copies of your emails to us.
  • Call Senators on the Committee and urge them to VOTE NO on SB236.
    • Please let us know whom you have called so we can track feedback given to the Committee.
  • Call the Capitol receptionist (406-444-4800) and ask that they tell each member of the Senate Fish & Game Committee to VOTE NO on SB236.
  • Share this information with others who want to prevent enshrining trapping in the MT Constitution.

Senate Fish & Game Committee
Meets:  Tu & Thurs, 3PM, Helena, Capitol Bldg., Rm 422
JILL COHENOUR (D)
, E. Helena, 406-227-1144; sen.jill.cohenour@mt.gov
TOM FACEY (D)
, Missoula, 406-240-4242; tfacey@mt.gov
*JENNIFER FIELDER (R), Thompson Falls, sen.jennifer.fielder@mt.gov
STEVE HINEBAUCH (R)
, Wibaux, 406-365-7967; sen.steve.hinebauch@mt.gov
JEDEDIAH HINKLE (R)
, Belgrade, 406-585-0722; sen.jedediah.hinkle@mt.gov
DAVID HOWARD (R)
, Park City, 406-633-2762; sendavidhoward@gmail.com
EDIE MCCLAFFERTY (D)
, Butte, 406-490-5873; edie.mcclafferty@gmail.com
MIKE PHILLIPS (D)
, Bozeman, 406-599-5857; mikephillips@montana.com
CARY L SMITH (R)
, Billings, 406-698-9307; sen.cary.smith@mt.gov
CHAS V VINCENT (R)
, Libby, 406-293-1575; cvvincent@hotmail.com
JEFFREY WELBORN (R)
, Dillon, 406-949-6070; jeffwelborn@hotmail.com
*Bill Sponsor

TALKING POINTS to help your testimony and messages.  Select one or two points and personalize your message to be most effective.

1.  Hunting and fishing are already protected in the Constitution.  This repetitive amendment clutters the Constitution with detailed activities.  We can’t add and don’t need amendments to protect each and every type of sport or employment.

2.  Trapping is managed as recreation.  Why not just resolve to protect recreation in MT rather than mess with the Constitution?  This was suggested in South Dakota when legislators killed a similar bill.

3.  Trapping does not provide “life’s basic necessities.”  Trappers made a profit of $56,000 last season and reported harvesting more than 50,000 animals.  That makes trapping a net loss with the associated costs of gas and equipment.  A handful of people in Montana pursue trapping for their livelihood.  In fact, trappers resist a mandatory trap-check time because they have jobs.

4.  Enshrining trapping in the Constitution can severely harm the state’s economy.  Lynx, wolverine, fishers and pine martens are severely depleted species, largely due to trapping.  Lynx are already on the endangered list, soon to be followed by wolverine and fishers.  This type of listing shuts down industry on our public lands.  Timber projects have been halted in the Gallatin, Kootenai and Custer National Forests to protect the endangered lynx.   

PLEASE TAKE ACTION ON THIS BILL.  WE CANNOT LET TRAPPING BECOME A PERMANENT FEATURE OF MONTANA, HARMING OUR WILDLIFE, OUR SAFETY, ECONOMY AND REPUTATION.   THANK YOU!

Montanans for Trapping Reform & Safe Public Lands (MTR)
a legislative action group of Footloose Montana
montanans.trapping.reform@gmail.com
406-549-4647