FWP, Livestock board may discuss anti-predator devices

A petition asking for a limit on use of anti-predator poisonous devices has been denied, but it’s still got livestock groups on the alert.

At the end of a brief Fish, Wildlife & Parks commission meeting Thursday, Zach Strong of the Natural Resources Defense Council expressed frustration over the commission’s rejection in May of an NRDC petition to limit trap threats to grizzly bears and other wildlife.

Strong pointed out that state law required a written decision for any petition denial, and he still hadn’t received one.

“I’m disappointed that the petition wasn’t made available to the public,” Strong said.

Livestock producers apparently wanted it made public, too. FWP Director Jeff Hagener told the commission that the Montana Woolgrowers Association had filed a formal information request for all communications between the department and the NRDC regarding the petition.

The petition, submitted on March 1, asked the commission to adopt rules to require trappers to check their traps every 24 hours – the only current requirement is every 48 hours for wolf traps - and to limit all use of neck snares and M-44 cyanide traps in grizzly territory. The petition rules are intended to reduce the accidental injury or death of non-target species, such as grizzly bears, bald eagles and pets.

An M-44 canister lures predators with an attractive smell - often from a small piece of bait - then uses a spring to propel sodium cyanide into the predator's mouth. The sodium cyanide combines with water – saliva in this case - to produce poisonous cyanide gas, which kills the animal.

The use of M-44s is prohibited in areas that contain endangered or threatened species. But the grizzly bear is poised for delisting in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and the NRDC doesn’t want use of the devices to increase. Strong said he wanted to at least give the public the chance to weigh in on the petition.

But in the May commission meeting, the commissioners denied the petition after Big Game Chief John Vore said the department didn’t recommend creating a new rule. Instead, Vore said, limitations could be set in the biennial furbearer season-setting.

“We take the stand of why do something now when we don’t know what the political landscape will look like in the future,” Vore said.

The one catch with M-44s and snares is FWP isn’t the only agency with regulatory authority. The Department of Livestock and the federal Wildlife Services also has oversight over predator snares, M-44’s and other predator poisons, so the FWP commission’s authority is limited.

In fact, some commissioners weren’t really familiar with where, when or why M-44s were used.

“This question really hasn’t been raised before,” Strong said.

Commissioner Gary Wolfe said he had only a negative experience with M-44s because one had killed his friend’s hunting dog. So he asked if M-44s could be used for recreational purposes or on public land. Vore said they were not for recreational use but could be used on public land if livestock depredation was occurring there.

Rocky Mountain Front rancher Maggie Nutter said she depended on being able to use M-44s on her property and wanted to use them on the state land she leases.

Commissioner Richard Stuker said he's used them on his property and M-44s are often used in eastern Montana to kill coyotes. He suggested in May that the commission should deny the petition but then meet with the Board of Livestock to discuss the use of M-44s and related issues.

On Thursday, Strong asked what progress had been made on organizing such a meeting. Hagener said he spoke on May 26 with BOL executive officer Mike Honeycutt who “was receptive” to such a meeting. Hagener also said the NRDC’s written response would be available soon.

Finally, Strong reiterated the need for a 24-hour trap check. He rattled off the numbers of non-target animals reported caught in traps between 2012 and 2014, although many aren’t reported: 89 mountain lions, 12 black bears, 3 grizzly bears, 4 wolverines, 3 lynx, and 58 dogs.

“I want to emphasize that the time has come for Montana to adopt a statewide trap-check requirement. We are one of the last states that generally doesn’t have one, other than for wolves and in some places bobcats. It’s a problem,” Strong said.