Stock growers, sportsmen discuss livestock protective committee

Several members of the local livestock industry met with Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz last week to discuss the possibility of forming a livestock protective committee to better address wolf management and predator control in Madison County.

The committee would advise, assist and cooperate with a variety of public entities including the Montana Board of Livestock, county commissioners and sheriff’s office – essentially any official or agency that has responsibilities for brand inspection, livestock disease prevention and protection and other matters of interest to members of the livestock industry in Madison County, Schulz said.

Those in attendance at the meeting expressed frustration that their hands are tied when it comes to dealing with the rapidly increasing wolf population in the county. Part of the problem stems from strained relationships with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and conflicted opinions about how FWP is monitoring wolves in the area. FWP’s current wolf management plan was written in 2004 and calls for a population of 100 animals. According to the FWP 2010 Wolf Report, as of December 2010 there were 566 wolves in the state, but that figure only represents animals the agency can account for. In reality, the wolf population in Montana is likely higher. Some would say much higher.

A handful of local sportsmen were also at the meeting to express their concerns about declining elk and mule deer populations and their relationship to the growing predator population.

While it is important to manage these wildlife populations so as to maintain a balanced ecosystem, the big game hunting season also brings a surge of hunter traffic providing a much-needed boost for the local economy, Schulz said. But fewer animals means fewer hunters which means less money coming through the community.

The formation of the livestock protective committee would allow them to request the Madison County Board of Commissioners to impose a fee not to exceed 50 cents per head of cattle older than nine months on Jan. 1, and an additional 25 cents per head for wolf management and predator control.

The fees would be collected by the county treasurer and deposited into a Livestock Special Deputy Fund. With 50,000 head of cattle in Madison County, the fee would generate approximately $37,000 for predator control in addition to any other county, state or private funds, Schulz said.

Stock growers in at the meeting agreed that much of that money would be used to pay for flight time for USDA Wildlife Services to track down and eliminate animals preying on livestock via helicopter. Although stock growers and landowners are allowed to shoot wolves they witness in the act of harassing their livestock, Wildlife Services has the only authority to remove packs or individual wolves that prey on livestock or domestic animals.

Many people in attendance at the meeting were unhappy with FWP’s perceived non-compliance with their own management plan. Several landowners considered withdrawing their property from state Block Management Program that allows members of the public to access private lands for hunting in an effort to force FWP to work in unison with both landowners and sportsmen to manage wildlife populations.

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