Sage Grouse: Problem Child
On January 8th and 9th the state EQC (Environmental Quality Council) had its meeting in Helena. I currently am the chairman. The EQC has oversight on FWP (Fish Wildlife & Parks), DNRC (Department of Natural Resources) and DEQ (Dept. of Environmental Quality). There are several important issues that affec us Montanans, especially in north central and northeastern Montana, that the EQC has on its table. The EQC is a bipartisan committee made up of eight Republicans and eight Democrats.
The Sage Grouse right now is the latest problem chid. The federal government under the guise of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, with the great assistance of big environmental groups, is attempting to list this bird as an endangered species. There is no shortage of this bird in Montana (confirmed by Montana FWP), but because there are fewer birds than in other states the feds want to put this onus on Montana as well!
The governor has appointed a Sage Grouse Council to hold hearings around the state to come up with solutions for this problem perpetrated by the feds and these wild eyed environmental parties! The state of Wyoming has had a plan in place and NOW the feds want an even stricter plan for Montana. Under the plan presented to the EQC, this simply could and would be a TAKING of private property rights!
The Montana FWP has so far had no inclination to stop hunting these birds. So I have had a bill draft in since last year to stop hunting these birds – this might help satisfy the feds. The governor, FWP and the FWP Commission could stop this hunt anytime, but they have not done so far as I believe they do not want to give up their paltry revenue on these bird licenses.
The sage grouse is a “here we go again problem.” If it isn’t the bird, it is bison or some other problem that they feds want to foist upon us in our area. I told the governor’s rep to tell the governor to tell the feds to “go to hell” and go to bat for us Montanans as this is where we make a living and live. Do not listen to comments from out of state, but listen to us in Montana!
Allowing a listing by the feds could have the impact of stopping development on your land, such as farming, ranching or natural resource development and I believe this is the root of the listing. You have all seen and read of the thousands of acres that have been locked up due to FWP’s action on the bison issue and the buying of ranches like the Milk River ranch. If this trend continues, we landowners will lock up many more thousands as that is the only recourse land owners have. It is easier to bury a bird than a grizzly bear!
The DNRC again attempted by rule to circumvent the legislature on the exempt water wells. The vote was 13 to 3, but if you are still thinking about drilling a water well on your property do it within the next six months as who knows what the DNRC will do next. FWP wants more money (what is new) and yet in an audit they have been allowing landowners who have given conservation easements which allows access to hunters, etc., to collect block management monies.
FWP spent over $2 million in 10-12 years on this program. I do not blame the landowners for taking this money, but FWP could have spent on average another $200,000 per year on block management leases to allow sportsmen access to other private lands!
FWP was written up on six of the seven issues the Audit Committee addressed on the block management program. And now I have just read in the paper the FWP and the FWP Commission want to buy more land and easements around the Milk River ranch and they want more money and yet cannot manage what they have. When I was questioned by one senator at our meeting, “What can we do?” my answer was the only way you get the FWP’s attention is for the legislature to cut their budget. They did it in Wyoming and it worked.
These were just a few of the weighty problems at our last meeting and I thought you should know.
With the last reapportionment on legislative lines, my senate district now comprises 282 miles of the 545 miles of shared border with Canada. That is a little over 50% of the border with Canada, running from the North Dakota line to as far west as straight north of Hingham on Highway 2. I welcome parts of Hill and Blaine County to my district.