Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wildlife bills take aim at bison, wolves

Bison and wolves will face a little more pressure from hunters if bills by two local legislators are successful.

In the House Fish and Game Committee, Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, introduced House Bill 328, which would allow Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists to provide hunters with the general location of bison.

In Montana, hunters can kill bison in two hunting districts: one to the northwest and one to the north of Yellowstone National Park. FWP offers 44 permits annually, with an additional 100 cow permits if warranted by numbers and location.

Washburn said biologists regularly provide such information to hunters for every game species, but a law written in 2003 prohibits it for bison.

“This bill gets the department out of an area where they don’t want to be,” Washburn said.
As a proponent, FWP chief Ken McDonald agreed.

McDonald explained that bison hunts in the late ’80s had attracted such negative attention that the Legislature shut them down.

When hunts were again allowed, laws, such as the one Washburn’s bill would change, were passed to avoid criticism and ethical concerns with fair chase hunting.

“We’re now in our eighth year of hunting bison, and we know they can move two to five miles daily,” McDonald said. “There’s no ethical reason not to provide their general location. We’re not taking hunters to bison and saying, ‘Here they are.’”

One of two opponents, Patrick Dougherty of the Bear Creek Council in Gardiner, said hunters shouldn’t need such information because bison are big and slow moving.

“If you can’t find a bison, you shouldn’t need a gun,” Dougherty said.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate Fish and Game Committee, Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Bozeman, had the satisfaction of watching the committee quickly pass his wolf-hunting bill, HB 73.

Flynn carried the bill for the FWP, which had requested adding the use of electronic wolf calls, a reduction in the cost of nonresident wolf licenses and allowing hunters to buy more than one license.
The bill was amended to prohibit the FWP Commission from closing hunting in areas around national parks unless they established a quota for those areas.

With that change, the bill passed the House on Jan. 24 with only three votes opposed.

Flynn made those points to the Senate committee and pointed out it was a bipartisan bill and proposed that a Democrat present the bill on the Senate floor.

“This is a bill that has been supported on both sides as something that will work in the middle,” Flynn said. “It retains the wolf as a valued animal but it gives us the tools to manage it.”

Before the vote, Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said snaring should be added as a tool, but other members said the bill should be passed as is.

With that, they passed the bill unanimously.

Flynn said Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, had agreed to carry the bill, but Chair John Brenden insisted that he would carry the bill to the floor this week.