County livestock producers look at fee to help with wolf management

A petition circulating around Madison County’s livestock producers is seeking support for a new fee on adult cattle to help build a fund to support wolf management and other livestock protection issues.

The idea for the petition came out of the spring meeting of the Southwest Montana Stockman’s Association, said Ruby Valley rancher Rick Sandru.

Essentially, the fee would be a way to address a lack of funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Sandru said.

However, the reason for the lack of funding is a bit of a debate. Sandru and Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz believe the lack of funding for Wildlife Services is due to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks not abiding by a bill passed in the last legislative session that instructed FWP to spend $900,000 on wolf management.

That money isn’t making its way to operations on the ground to address wolf depredations, Sandru said.

“They’re authorized to spend $900,000 and nothing’s getting done and we don’t know where the money’s going, but I’m sure it’s getting spent,” he said.

However, the money is getting spent on wolf management, said FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim.

The legislation didn’t provide FWP with any additional funding, it just dictated $900,000 be spent on wolf management.

“It doesn’t necessarily say that you spend more or less than you did before,” Aasheim said.

Of that $900,000, he said, $626,000 is being spent on the five wolf specialists around the state, $110,000 was given to Wildlife Services for handling wolf depredation issues and $154,000 goes toward administrative costs.

In Montana, Wildlife Services handles all predator control actions associated with livestock depredations, said John Steuber, who is the director of USDA Wildlife Services in the state.

“We do all the investigations on livestock depredations,” Steuber said.

However, federal funding for their programs in Montana has been cut.

“Earmarks were cut throughout the country and that included an earmark that provided funding to Montana for predator management,” he said.

Included in Wildlife Services funding are fees from livestock producers, which are typically a per head fee assessed on adult livestock.

Last year, for the first time Steuber could remember, Wildlife Services entered into agreements with private landowners to help fund wolf management activities. This was solely due to a lack of funding in the agency.

“To my knowledge it had not happened before because we had sufficient state and federal cooperator funding,” he said.

The new fee proposed by the Southwest Montana Stockman’s Association would go to help local landowners offset the cost of Wildlife Services, Sandru said.

The fee would be $.50 a head on live cattle at least nine months old. In Madison County that would generate about $24,000 a year.

Approving the fee would also mean forming a three-person committee called the Madison County Livestock Protective Committee to collect and disperse the money, Schulz said. Producers in Beaverhead County are considering a similar petition. Both counties would collect their own money and have their own committees.

The per-head fee would be an additional fee to the $.25 fee already assessed on adult cattle in Madison County for predator control.

“It would enable everyone to contribute a little bit to get a war chest gathered up,” Sandru said. “This is totally producer initiated.”

Initially, there was some confusion that county commissioners were proposing the idea, Schulz said. However, he just wanted to help the producers get the petition mailed and organized.

“We chose to help with the mailing of the petition, not because we have an opinion yes or no to it, but because that’s what the members of the Southwest Montana Stock growers voted on,” he said. “We mailed it out, but it was not at our decision, it was at the request of the stock growers.”

The money generated by the fee would allow producers to be more proactive, Sandru said. It could be used for anything pertaining to livestock protection.

“We’re trying to help ourselves here and this is the only thing we’ve found so far that can do that,” Sandru said.

Currently, Montana is in the midst of its second wolf hunting season. Madison County is divided between two hunting districts for the hunt – 310 and 320. The quota between the two districts is 25 wolves. As of Tuesday morning, five wolves have been killed in hunting district 310 and no wolves have been killed in 320.

Statewide, the quota for this wolf season is 220. As of Tuesday morning, hunters had killed 44 wolves during the season, which goes until Dec. 31.

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