After the Legislature rejected two of the governor’s four candidates for the Fish & Wildlife commission, two FWP veterans will fill the roles for at least the next two years.
On Friday, Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Tim Aldrich of Missoula and Shane Colton of Billings to replace Gary Wolf and Matthew Tourtlotte on the FW commission.
Aldrich is a retired forest administrator for the Gallatin National Forest. He’s also served on a number of FWP advisory committees including the 2014 revamp of the fish and game tag costs, represented public hunters on the Montana Board of Outfitters, and has held leadership positions in the Montana Wildlife Federation. His father, Don Aldrich, was a Montana conservation leader in the mid-20th century.
Colton, a Billings attorney in his late 40s, is no stranger to the commission, having already served two terms starting in 2005. Having grown up in Denton, Colton knows both the rural and urban issues that can challenge wildlife management, said commission chair Dan Vermillion. Vermillion – who wasn’t up for confirmation this biennium – joined the commission a few years before Colton left and says Colton is a well-rounded commissioner.
“He understands where people are coming from in the different parts of Montana,” Vermillion said. “He spends a lot of time thinking about hunting and fishing. And he grew up in a family where public access was the opportunity he needed to go out and hunt and fish. So he’s a really strong proponent of making sure those opportunities exist down the road.”
Bullock made the appointments because the Montana Senate Fish and Wildlife Committee refused to approve Tourtlotte for a second term and newcomer Greg Tollefson of Missoula for his first.
Tollefson helped lead the Five Valleys Land Trust in Missoula for 25 years, shepherding the creation of open space and conservation easements in western Montana. But it was his writing as an outdoors columnist for the Missoulian that appeared to be his undoing with GOP senators.
After Tollefson spent a few hours answering senators’ questions at an April 13 hearing, Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, dug through Tollefson’s articles and didn’t like what he saw.
“I looked into his background because I was disturbed by some of the lack of depth in his answers. I hoped he was being truthful,” Vincent told the committee on April 18. “I read a lot of the articles he’s written, and they’re in direct contrast to why I’m sitting here (in the Legislature), so I can’t in good conscience consider him.”
The committee voted against Tollefson on a 6-5 vote. Sen. Jeffrey Welborn, R-Dillon, was the only Republican supporting Tollefson.
Tourtlotte was unable to attend the April 13 hearing and Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, said she hadn’t received any response from Tourtlotte. Sen. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, said people told him that Tourtlotte was hard to reach and didn’t respond to emails.
J.W. Westman of the Laurel Rod and Gun Club denied that.
“Matt Tourtlotte was very reachable. He would always get back to you, although sometimes it might be a day later. But everyone gets busy now and then,” Westman said. “He was a rock star for Laurel Rod and Gun.”
Vermillion said Fielder’s complaint that Tourtlotte didn’t always attend commission meetings in person didn’t detract from Tourtlotte’s effectiveness.
“That was a bit of a red herring as it relates to the Republicans’ opposition to the governor’s candidates. Fielder was intent on doing whatever she could to oppose the governor’s nominees,” Vermillion said. “I think he was poorly treated and he deserves a lot of thanks from sportsmen and women of Montana for his service.”
Bullock’s third nominee, Logan Brower of Scobey, also received a thumbs-down from the committee. But the next day, the full Senate voted him in after some of the committee members put forth an amendment to add him back as a nominee.
Vincent said he originally voted no because Brower, who grew up in the Idaho panhandle, has lived in Montana only four years.
“A lot of people in my district have families stretching back three or four generations and they would love to serve on this commission. But then I learned that they had a hard time finding someone in this region who was interested,” Vincent said.
Brower will represent Region 4, a boot-shaped region running east from the Northern Rocky Mountain Front to Lewistown that contains 180,000 people, most of whom live in Great Falls. He takes over for Richard Kerstein, who died last year after a bout with cancer, so Brower’s term will end in January 2019.
The one man that had resounding support was Commissioner Richard Stucker of Chinook. Stucker represents ranching interests so he had hunters, outfitters and landowners vouching for his qualifications. Stucker was reconfirmed for a term ending January 2021.
Normally, the Legislature must confirm commissioners. But if commissioners are appointed while the Legislature is adjourned, they serve until the next Legislature convenes, which is 2019.
Vermillion thinks Stucker and the new members will be able to work well together as the commission tackles issues such as a possible grizzly bear delisting, elk population problems and a myriad of wildlife diseases.
“I’m really excited about the next couple years,” Vermillion said.