Earlier this year, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission directed the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to establish rules creating a Montana Wolf Stamp. The Department proposed a final rule, allowed a two-month period for public comment, and even held a statewide public hearing.
Public response to the proposed rule was overwhelmingly supportive. Of the tens of thousands of comments received by the Department, the vast majority supported the proposal. Of the dozens who testified at the public hearing, a decided majority again spoke in favor of the proposal. Yet, last month, the Department rejected the proposed rule, citing a “need to further discuss the concept.”
It is unclear what more there is to discuss. As I have previously written, the wolf stamp would have been a win-win step forward, benefitting wildlife, ranchers, hunters, non-hunters, and FWP alike. In the first year alone, it likely would have raised more than $1 million for already existing, non-lethal management programs. It received landslide public support. Critics had an opportunity to offer concrete alternatives; none did. Montana was ready for the wolf stamp. It is unfortunate, and disappointing, that the Department was not.
In a statement, FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said:
With so many different points-of-view expressed, many unanswered questions and divergent expectations remain. We want to get this right the first time, and don’t want to compromise the obvious potential of offering an opportunity to those who don’t hunt and fish the chance to contribute to wildlife management.
The statement went on to explain that the Department intends to “convene a group for a day-long discussion this fall . . . to identify or develop common ground for developing future funding recommendations that could be considered for public review and comment.”
Let’s hope this suggests a silver lining to the Department’s decision. Let’s hope it indicates that the Department is still willing to consider real, meaningful opportunities for wolf and wildlife enthusiasts to contribute to wildlife management and policies in our state. NRDC has been invited to participate, and we will – so long as the discussions are a sincere attempt to achieve tangible benefits for wildlife, and real opportunities for the public.
In any event, it should be clear to FWP that this is not an issue it can simply reject. Wildlife belongs to, and must be managed on behalf of, the public. And today’s reality is that a large and increasing majority of the public are non-hunters—more and more of whom care deeply about wildlife and are looking for more meaningful ways to contribute to their conservation.
Moreover, with budget issues becoming more of a concern, and interest in wildlife watching on the rise, providing opportunities for non-hunters to contribute only makes sound fiscal and management sense. The time has come for state wildlife agencies across the country to more explicitly recognize this situation, and consider the many positive and collaborative opportunities it presents.
I remain hopeful that Montana will embrace this view and lead the nation by adopting a wolf or wildlife stamp in the near future. And I hope that whether it’s in Montana or elsewhere, when reasonable proposals arise that will increase the funding and resources available for wildlife, all of us—agencies and advocates, landowners and ranchers, hunters and non-hunters alike—have the courage and integrity to agree that a step in support of wildlife and public participation, even if small and imperfect, is a step worth taking.