Kicking Ass and Taking Game

2011 is in the books. What a wild ride it was. We began the year screaming about wolves, and that quickly led to the ugliest Legislative session in recent history, when it comes to wildlife and conservation issues. Congress, in an attempt to mirror the 62nd legislature, followed suit with a host of poorly crafted and outright hostile bills that would remove existing protections for elk, sheep and many other species, while handing control of our public lands over to one Federal Agency, because, apparently, there’s abunch of potheads crossing over into Glacier (world renowned for it’s dope and ease of foot navigation, right?).

The year ended much differently however. In May, Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) got wolves delisted by the only means left: Congressional Action. Many of us were involved in this effort, and while things got weird for a while, it seems like the wisdom of the approach that was embodied in Simpson/Tester has proven to be sound. Wolves are still thriving in the Northern Rockies, and the harvest has not been nearly as high as the doom and gloomers on one side of the issue would have you believe. The doom and gloomers on the other side continue to spill out inaccuracies regarding elk populations, disease and offering no real world solutions to the issue. This is, of course, in spite of a lot of good science that helps define that path forward. No species has been as controversial as wolves, and I doubt anybody thought that it would take Congressional Action to turn management of a recovered species back to the states where it rightly belongs. The month of May also saw the wacky 62nd Montana Legislature adjourn. 

Over 250 bills that would have negatively impacted Montanas wildlife and wild lands, including a bill to get rid of all public lands, were introduced and chewed on. Montanan’s turned out in force to stop the assault on hunters and anglers, and luckily, we were able to beat back about 80% of the bad bills. The worst of these was the attack on Stream Access. Buses filled with sportsmen and women showed up from around the state to let the Senate Agriculture committee know that they should follow the will of the people, and protect the bedrock Stream Access law. It was the largest attended hearing since the original stream access law was passed in 1986. Over 450 folks filled the Old Supreme Court Chambers, balcony, and adjoining halls. They even filled the Rotunda, on both the first and second floors. Ultimately this ill advised bill that passed the House died in the Senate committee…a grassroots victory to preserve the Public Trust. TR would be proud of that. It took the Governor’s pen to ensure that the worst of the worst died. The Branding party was a blast, and while about 150 folks stood around on a cold spring day, it became clear that Montanan’s united and engaged in their most sacred franchise: Democracy. 

In April, Sportsmen from around the Nation held a teleconference highlighting their concerns about the appropriations process back in D.C. (where Congress has an approval rating slightly lower than Ted Kazinsky). That effort, and the subsequent lobbying efforts of the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and hundreds of thousands of everyday hunters and anglers who wrote, called and cajoled their elected officials led to some amazing results at the end of the year. I received an email from Senator Tester’s office with a yearly wrap up. Here’s the word straight from the Co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus: 

• Land and Water Conservation Funding

Amount Funded: $322 million

This final amount was over five times what the House Interior Appropriations bill had proposed. Land and Water Conservation Funding was one of the few budget line items to see an increase over FY11 funding, increasing $21 million. Because you all expressed such broad support for the program, Senator Tester requested strong funding for Land and Water Conservation Funding and worked with Chairman Reed (D-RI) to achieve this.

• North American Wetlands Conservation Act

Amount Funded: $35.5 million 

This was another priority Senator Tester heard from Montana’s sportsmen, and the Senator worked to restore some funding from the House’s cuts. This program was zeroed out by the House in HR 1 and funded at $20 million in the House Interior Appropriations bill. As many of you know, for every dollar the government provides, it leverages another four dollars in private conservation funding to protect important migratory bird habitat. 

• State and Tribal Wildlife Grants: 

Amount Funded: $65 million

Senator Tester increased the funding from HR 1’s allocation of $22 million and the House Interior’s committee request of $61 million. This funding provides grants to States and Tribes to manage non-game species that are currently not listed as endangered or threatened. This funding is critical to keep species from being added to the Endangered Species List. It supports surveying species, defining needed habitat protections and building cooperative partnerships with local landowners and agencies to carry out management.

• Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund

Amount Appropriated: $47.8 million

The House Interior Appropriations bill cut funding for the this fund to $2.85 million from the FY11 level of $59.9 million. This program provides federal matching dollars to work with local governments and private land owners to plan and enhance conservation to secure core habitat for critically important species. An example in Montana are projects to secure spawning habitat for Bull Trout. You all have seen first-hand the importance of this program.

Two bills that were hugely positive for Montana’s hunters and anglers continue to grab headlines and attention. In November, Senator Max Baucus introduced the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. This proposal has been put together over the last 4 years by a group of hunters, ranchers, outfitters, business owners, hikers and anyone who wanted to sit through hours of meetings and was willing to check their ego at the door. 

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, sponsored by Senator Jon Tester had a wild ride this year. We were hopeful that it would have been attached to the final Continuing Resolution, but politics as usual stopped the momentum in the waning days of Congress. 

On the other side of that coin, Hunters and Anglers have worked non-stop to try and derail H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act. This bill, as drafted by Representative McCarthy (R-CA), would eliminate existing protections on over 43 million acres of prime hunting and fishing ground throughout the US. The motorized crowd, and the oil and gas industry are fully in support of this anti-hunting bill, claiming that this will open more access to forest lands. It will – for companies who put profits ahead of people, and believe that cutting corners is the best way to ensure a healthy bottom line. This fight is not over, and we, along with the vast majority of hunters and anglers, will continue to fight against this travesty. 

The lesson of 2011 is simple: Stand up, fight back and keep fighting. Together, thousands of Montanans made a huge difference during a year that could have seen the reigns of wildlife management handed over to those who care not for public hunting. Our public lands could have been handed over to subdividers, had existing, reasonable protections eliminated, and been denuded of wildlife, and of hunters and anglers. 

It’s years like this that TR’s words ring so true, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Now, as 2011 starts out, we see that some folks continue to push bad ideas, and will stop at nothing to buy political favor. 2011 might end up being the opening act to a tumultuous 2012. Remember, it’s the election season, and anything seems to go these days.

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Hellgate Hunters and Anglers
Our Mission is to conserve Montana's wildlife, wild places, and fair-chase hunting and fishing heritage.