One of the common refrains that I heard at the Montana Fish Wildlife and Park’s (FWP) meeting in Lewistown about releasing wild bison in counties that do not want wild bison was that we need to do this because of the hunters. It was said that FWP is responsible to the hunters that pay for the department, and that these hunters are requesting wild bison that they can hunt.
This line of reasoning made me start to think about all the reasons that hunters visiting our ranch have given for not wanting wild bison released in the Missouri Breaks. I thought that there were a handful, but when I actually started listing them, I had trouble fitting them all on one page. If you are like me, not all of these concerns are at the top of your worry list, but I didn’t think any of them were foolish or unreasonable.
If you buy a Montana hunting license, FWP has repeatedly stated the importance of your opinion to them. (We can debate whether or not they ought to also value the opinions of the people that for a hundred years have provided them with wildlife habitat, many free hunting opportunities even when the federal government is shut down, weed and fire control, and helped assist and rescue lost or stuck hunters.)
So I challenge you. If you are one of the many hunters that do not want to see wild bison released in the Missouri Breaks, yoHur voice is not being heard. Look through my list below, mark the reasons that matter to you, make your own comments and send your input along to Director Jeff Hagener at his FWP office in Helena.
Dear Director Hagener:
As a Montana hunter (and one of the people that pay your salary), I oppose the introduction of an unfenced herd of bison to the Breaks. I oppose it for the following reasons:
• I believe it will drain FWP funding (provided by me, the hunter) with liability and property damage commitments, and FWP will be forced to curtail current programs that I value.
• I believe bison will be listed as an endangered species. An endangered species will not be hunted, and I don’t want to spend my hunting dollars on an unhuntable species.
• I value that people of many ages and physical abilities can hunt deer, antelope, and elk in the Breaks with abundant, relatively inexpensive tags. I believe bison will outcompete other species like in the Henry Mountains. I don’t want to have today’s egalitarian hunting opportunities replaced by a few expensive bison tags that few people have the physical abilities and equipment to take advantage of.
• When FWP makes Breaks landowners feel threatened and helpless, their only recourse is closing their land. I don’t like FWP reducing my hunting opportunities with an agenda I oppose.
• I believe the presence of bison will focus the attention of ultra-rich, anti-hunting extremists on the Breaks and ultimately lead to them being closed to all hunting.
• I believe that wolf lovers follow bison, and wolves will mean the end of hunting in the Breaks.
• I do not believe that FWP wildlife disease management methods are sufficient to keep bison disease-free, and I believe that bison disease poses an unacceptable hazard to my safety, other wildlife, and/or the livelihoods of the people living in the Breaks.
• I like to stalk deer, antelope, and elk on foot. I do not believe I’m safe near bison and far from a vehicle.
• I believe bison in the Breaks pose a hazard to my personal property, my camper and vehicle.
• Releasing unfenced bison on the ranges of Breaks families will destroy their livelihoods. These families help me if I am lost, stuck, out of gas or water, or need to make a phone call and don’t have cell service. They provide wildlife habitat by fighting weeds and fires and developing water. Their taxes maintain the roads I use to access the Breaks, and they keep unmaintained roads passable. I don’t want them forced off the land.
• Discussion so far has faced overwhelming local opposition and requires that counties in the Breaks be weak enough to be broken to the FWP’s will. I believe democracy is rule by the majority of those affected and fascism is an unaffected majority forcing its will on an affected minority. If FWP can’t produce a plan with broad local support, it’s a bad plan.
• I can hunt bison now and do not want to give up so much to gain what I already have.