The Board of Livestock seemed more like the Board of Grizzly Bears on Friday as concerns about carnivores filled most of the morning’s agenda.
Livestock producers on the northern plains have had to deal with more grizzly bears this year so they don’t want to lose management tools and want more say in the bear’s management, according to Livestock Board members.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wildlife Management Chief Quentin Kujala briefed the board on a recent petition sent to the FWP commission by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC had asked that FWP limit the use of neck snares and M44 cyanide canisters on public land in grizzly country. Kujala said the commission had denied the petition, partly because the BOL also has authority over those devices when it comes to controlling predators, such as coyotes.
However, Kujala asked if the board would approve larger setbacks for predator snares on public land to avoid ensnarling pets. He invited the board to comment at the FWP commission’s July 13 meeting.
Board member Nina Baucus said setbacks were a no-brainer but she didn’t want any additional regulation on predator-control tools.
“The M44’s are very heavily regulated already,” Baucus said. “For this board, predation is something where we do not want any of the tools used by Wildlife Services to be fiddled with. So many of the tools that they’ve used in the past have been taken away from them, and as you’re well aware, the predation situation in this state has exploded.”
Baucus was referring to the large increase in predation loss reported by Livestock Loss Board Director George Edwards. Edwards said losses as of this point are two-thirds larger than they were last year.
In 2015, 90 head of livestock was confirmed killed or probably killed by grizzly bears, Edwards said. As of this year, 94 have been confirmed or probably killed, but that doesn’t count 51 sheep near Valier over the Memorial Day weekend, Edwards said.
By this time last year, the Loss Board had paid for 11 losses due to wolves, and this year, it’s up to 22, Edwards said.
Edwards said the Loss Board has enough money to cover the losses thanks to last year’s relatively low losses. Every year, the Loss Board receives $200,000 from the general fund and any money that is not used rolls over into the next year.
However, the bill that appropriated the money – House Bill 622 – sunsets in 2017, so Edwards stressed that the bill needs to be renewed and wanted the amount to increase to $300,000 a year.
With wolves, livestock producers and Wildlife Services can take more direct removal action. But the grizzly bears that are wandering the plains west of Great Falls are still protected under the Endangered Species Act. That’s why the Livestock Board was considering asking for a seat at the table of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee so it wouldn’t have to wait to participate in public comment.
But after attending the recent IGBC meeting in Idaho, Maggie Nutter of the Marias River Livestock Association said it would be better for the Livestock Board to participate at the regional level.
Nutter said more tribes, such as the Blackfeet Nation, were also asking for a seat at the table because many oppose delisting the bear and have wildlife management authority on their respective reservations.
“(Livestock producers and the IGBC) have a common goal: to prevent livestock depredation. Management removals of grizzly bears is a huge part of the grizzly bear mortality. So by prevent livestock depredation, we basically prevent grizzly bear removal,” Nutter said. “But I don’t see us on the IGBC – I see us working very hard on the subcommittees.”
After a Wildlife Services representative said all the bear activity was putting a strain on his resources, board member Brett DeBruycker of Dutton vented his frustration with having to deal with grizzly bears.
“We can complain about this all we want. But what it’s really going to take is some issues where some children get eaten,” DeBruycker said. “That’s probably going to be the tactic that we’re going to have to take. It’s sad, but I don’t think that people care about our livestock. We’re living here – we just have to deal with it.”
Board member Ed Waldner said the problem was the grizzly bear population is too big, so they are leaving the mountains for the plains. The population needed to be controlled, Waldner said.
Board member Susan Brown sympathized with their concerns but said neither the bears nor the wolves are going away.
“As a group, I don’t think we’re going to be able to fight. The tourism in our state is big. So we have to work alongside the Department of Commerce, and we have to work out ways so that both sides can be happy. We can complain all we want, but we have to work together,” Brown said.