Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ravalli County commissioners to write policy for wolf control

HAMILTON - In response to a citizen-called meeting about gray wolves in the Bitterroot Valley, Ravalli County commissioners adopted a resolution Friday to begin gathering data on the species.
The resolution, which was adopted unanimously, states that the information commissioners gather will be used in "quantifying the impacts of the governmental placement of wolves and developing a policy for large predator control in Ravalli County."
While the resolution doesn't specifically say how the commissioners will go about collecting data, Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher - who penned the resolution - said it is the first step.
"The next process is to develop how we do that," he said.
Kanenwisher said a majority of the information commissioners will gather is state and federal agency data, but he is still interested in personal stories of wolf encounters.
The resolution gives an Oct. 19 deadline to finish with data gathering, after which the commissioners will create a document that states wolves' impact on the valley to the best of their knowledge, as well as what they believe is the best course of action.
The resolution points to citizens claiming adverse economic, environmental, social and cultural effects of wolves in the valley and that "a de facto state of emergency may exist."
Kanenwisher said the information and policies that come out of the process will be used as part of "coordination" with other government agencies, a conservative political strategy that asserts local government has an equal position at the negotiating table with federal and state agencies.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott said he wants the board to strongly define what type of information they are looking for in this process.
"We're looking for factual, solid data," Chilcott said. "We're going to need a community to step up and provide actual data to make this valid."
Commissioner Suzy Foss said she believes wolves were an issue in Ravalli County long before she was elected last November.
"We're here to serve everybody," Foss said. "This has been a public process and all we're doing is moving forward."
Commissioner Ron Stoltz said citizens are the ones who brought the issue to the commissioners' table and it's their job to find the facts.
"I think this is the next logical step, to find the facts," Stoltz said. "I think this is a way to start, and we need to start now."
A number of the 15 citizens who spoke at Friday's meeting thanked the commissioners during the public comment period for their action on the matter.
"If we can resolve it on the local level, that would be outstanding," said Bob Sherman.
Keith Kubista, of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, thanked commissioners "for recognizing the negative impacts to the human environment that were told to you last week."
Others in the crowd of fewer than 20 people voiced their concerns with the resolution.
Char Jones told commissioners that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is set up to do this type of research and is paid to do it with taxpayer dollars.
"We need to utilize that," Jones said. "That is where the research is going to come from."
Marc Cooke of the National Wolf Watcher Coalition said wolves are being unfairly blamed and will be slaughtered because of it.
"You're just trying to incite fear in people," Cooke told commissioners. "This is nothing more than a witch hunt."
As of yet, no additional commissioner meetings regarding wolves have been scheduled.