The Art of Compromise


This week, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission did a couple of things that deserve praise. They set a new wolf season and they rejected a negotiated settlement on the Marias River Wildlife Management Area. Wolf management, as always, is controversial. There was no shortage of opinionsexpressed during the two hour public comment ranging from the usual “kill ‘em all” to “don’t kill any.”

The Commission had a tough choice to make when it came to approving a department proposal that many, including us, felt went too far. They split the baby down the middle and did a fine job of listening to the concerns of all constituents. It’s not a perfect proposal, but it represents the best effort yet to accommodate all concerns when it comes to wolf management. The Commission took our advice and eliminated the provision that allows hunters to shoot wolves over trap baits. We don’t hunt over baits in Montana nor should we. Ethics is often defined as what we do when nobody is looking, and in the case of shooting wolves over baits, our own ethics are clear: It ain’t cool.

The Commission also pulled back on the end date of the season, which we also suggested. This is consistent with how Montana manages all game species. We don’t allow the taking of bears with cubs or who are visibly lactating. We don’t shoot pregnant elk late into winter when they are the most stressed and we shouldn’t be hunting wolves when they are starting to whelp. The image of a hunter holding up a lactating female wolf would be great fodder for anti-hunters who are already coming after our trapping on public lands. We don’t need to help that effort in a blood lust to kill wolves. We also need to follow the path of our forefathers and respect the lives of the animals we hunt. You don’t respect an animal by hunting until the end of March.

They went further though: The limited the number of wolves per person to 1 around Yellowstone and they set a quota of seven wolves for the area surrounding the Park. This was because of great pressure applied by non-hunting groups and wildlife advocates who were seeking a permanent closure of hunting grounds when it comes to wolves around Yellowstone.

The Commission did right and came up with a Tentative that should be supported by hunters & anglers. Good job boys.

In regards to the Marias WMA, the proposed settlement would have cost Montanans 360 acres of prime river bottom land and breaks in exchange of limited access for hunters. The truth is, the WMA isn’t all that big. You can walk it in a day easy. If you’re one of the few who get drawn to hunt the WMA, that kind of solitude is priceless. If you’re a deer during hunting season, it means a lot less moving off of public land an on to private land to avoid the camo crowd.

The decision also could set up another court case where the Judge will have to decide if there was an implied easement due to historical use or if the road is actually private. That issue needs to be settled, but not at the expense of hunter opportunity and hunt quality. Even if the Department and the Commission succeed in winning the case, which we think they will, and the road is opened up the department will still dictate the travel management.

We would hope that whatever the outcome, the eastern portion of the WMA remains walk-in only in order to preserve the quality of the hunt and the conserve the security habitat in there.

Serving on the Commission is a thankless job and often times, the appointees come under tremendous pressure both from the people of Montana and their elected officials. Commissions throughout the United States were set up to avoid the political wrangling that we see every legislative session. The concept that formed these commissions 100 years ago is just as valid, if not more so today.

Your opportunity to hunt and fish should never be political in nature. With a good commission politics is kept out of wildlife management. For their first big decisions, this new commission has shown that they are open to public comment and responsive to valid concerns


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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.