Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why I-177 is a BAD Idea

Wildlife Management 
North America is home to the most plentiful and healthiest wildlife populations in the world. The key to carrying that out is wildlife management or, in other words, using the best available science to balance the continuing needs of wildlife with the needs of humans. Biologists, scientists, game wardens, wildlife professors and other professionals agree wildlife management is vital to the health of species and habitat. State wildlife agencies and their existing science-based public process, not ballot box measures, should determine how wildlife management is implemented. Ballot box measures open the door to dangerous consequences. 

The North American Wildlife Conservation Model includes basic principles that build, maintain and promote healthy wildlife populations. Among those principles include the fundamental concept that wildlife needs to be managed so their populations will be sustained forever. 

Trapping is a key management tool for wildlife managers. It is tightly regulated with distinct rules and controlled seasons. I-177 would severely damage sustainable, science-based wildlife management which draws on population calculations, habitat, carrying capacity, and a combination of biology, geography, math and chemistry. I-177 would upset wildlife population balance by ensuring an overabundance of wolves, coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons and other predators on the landscape.

Increased Costs/Lost Revenue 
According to the chief legal counsel of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), I-177 will cost taxpayers at least $422,000 annually for FWP to replace what trappers currently pay to do. 

$60,504 + 60,000 + 180,155 + 60,000 + 61,380 = $422,039 

Cost breakdown:
$60,504 + 60,000 = $120,504 
Trapping currently provides 12-20 percent of the verified wolf locations used in the state’s annual wolf population estimate. Removing trapping from public lands would require the state to identify and obtain 26-44 known wolf locations (based on the average number of wolves taken during the hunting season each year and the average proportion taken by trapping on public lands) in order to determine Montana’s wolf population as per federal guidelines. There is an increase in cost because locations of harvested wolves (including those trapped on public lands) are required to be reported and are therefore provided to FWP by trappers at no cost. Other available methods for obtaining wolf locations include radio collars or remote cameras. Obtaining 26-44 known wolf locations using remote cameras would, at a minimum, require two seasonal full time employees. 
$60,504 = two-full time employees (salary - $35,230; benefits - $11,274; mileage - $6,000; equipment - $4,000; other - $4,000) 

$60,000 = capturing and radio-collaring 20 additional wolves per year (collars last three years but not all stay on for three years) from a helicopter 

$180,155 + 60,000 = $240,155 
Exceptions to the I-177 ban of trapping on public lands allows FWP to address many types of wildlife conflict including predator control to reduce livestock depredation, removal of depredating animals, removal of animals that present hazards at airports, removal of beavers and muskrats that cause property damage or create nuisance situations to water works, dikes, road culverts, and removal of large carnivores causing nuisance conflicts that include human safety concerns. However, I-177 requires FWP respond to each individual complaint to verify its validity, verify reasonable use of alternative methods was employed, install and maintain beaver flow devices on publicly-owned lands and road right-aways, and track each complaint with documentation before trapping is used. FWP does not have capacity with its current staffing so it would need to hire four full-time employees.
$180,155 = four full-time employees (salary & benefits) 
$60,000 = annual operation cost of $15,000 per region ($15,000 x 4 = $60,000) 

It is assumed that current licensed trappers will trap on public land or private land, but not both. Trapping on private land requires landowner permission. Given that large areas of private land are not open to trapping and, therefore, the percentage of licensed trappers trapping on public land is assumed to be higher, FWP determines it will not realize $61,380 in annual revenue from trapping licenses. 

Experience in other states with trapping bans (Washington, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts) show that the costs to the state is much more. It will also cost counties, municipalities, and landowners (which are not included in these STATE cost estimates) much more to control wildlife problems. 

In addition, towns, cities, parks, schools and universities will also be forced to pay for alternative pest and predator control efforts to manage disease-carrying species, eventually driving the total taxpayer burden for I-177 into millions of dollars over time. 

Wolf license sales generated $1.85 million since 2012 directly for wolf management. Removing trapping from the management equation would remove a slice of that revenue. 

Year    Wolf License Revenue    Wolves Harvested    Wolves Taken by Trapping
2012            $441,000                              225                                       90
2013             $537,000                             230                                       92
2014             $455,000                             206                                       82
2015             $417,000                             210                                       74 

The state of Montana paid out $79,311 for wolf depredations for cattle, sheep and dog losses in 2015. More wolves on the landscape would equate into more depredations and, therefore, more payments.

Elk Numbers vs. Wolf Numbers 
Wildlife management plays the vital role in maintaining a sustainable balance between predator and prey. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists estimate a minimum wolf population of 536 wolves in 2015. At the same time, biologists also say the actual population is 27-37 percent higher which equates to 680-734 wolves. During wolf reintroduction in the mid-1990s, Montana’s minimum recovery population goal was 150 wolves. That means the current estimated wolf population on the Montana landscape is 400 percent (or higher) above original objective. 

Trapping and hunting are the main tools of Montana’s wolf management program. Both are highly regulated. Since 2012, hunters and trappers took 871 wolves. Thirty-nine percent or 338 wolves were taken via trapping. If there were no trapping the past four years, the current wolf population would be well above 1,000. I-177 would remove a highly effective wolf management tool and have a drastic and detrimental effect on elk, deer, moose and other wildlife populations. 

Without the ability to use traps and trapping techniques, wildlife managers could turn to other means for predator control. Pesticides are much more dangerous for wildlife, humans and pets because they are indiscriminate in nature. When an animal dies in the wild, it is quickly consumed by other animals. A wolf or coyote that dies from poison would be eaten by scavenging birds and smaller animal life leading to defects and death. 

Public Access 
Public lands should be available for all. I-177 criminalizes public participation in an effective wildlife management tool. It also dictates a group of Montanans (trappers) are no longer welcome on Montana’s publicly owned lands which cover a third of the state’s 94-million-acre landscape. 

Ballot Box Biology 
Dictating wildlife managing practices at the ballot box is both reckless and dangerous for the health of our wildlife populations and landscapes. Such decisions should be made by professional wildlife managers, biologists and scientists through a public input process, and confirmed through scientific findings and research. 

Other Factors 
Article IX, Section 7 of the Montana Constitution (Preservation of Harvest Heritage) states that “the opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state…” 

Even immediately after an animal attack or severe property damage, I-177 does not allow any trapping until non-lethal methods have been tried and documented to be unsuccessful. 

I-177 was formulated and backed by an environmental group whose leaders grew up outside the state of Montana. 

Missoulian editorial I-177 Misses Target
“Montana’s public lands are big enough to accommodate everyone, and we should all work together to find a way to share the landscape before seeking to lock out any particular group. Until those efforts are exhausted, Montanans should vote “no” on I-177.” 

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