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Ask any school age kid from Florida or California what they know about Montana. Chances are the student will mention big mountains, rare wildlife like grizzly bear and bison, great fishing and wide open spaces. Montana is justifiably famous for its legacy of wild animals, clean rivers and public lands.

Montana may soon be the state formerly known for its wildlife. The War on Wildlife underway in the state legislature could not be further from people’s perceptions of Montana as a wildlife paradise. With extreme anti-wildlife Republicans in control of Montana’s government, a century of wildlife conservation success is in danger of being erased. And for what?

A sampler of bills now flying towards rubber stamping by Gov. Gianforte reads like a wildlife lover’s horror movie. Legislators are introducing every kind of trapping, snaring, and killing measure they can think of. Lawmakers seek to amend the state constitution to make hunting and trapping, rather than actual conservation, the primary means of managing Montana wildlife. Killing is not management.

Many Montana measures target bears, an animal beloved by most schoolchildren. House Bill 468 authorizes the use of dogs to hunt black bears and allows hunters to chase bears in summer for “training.” Black bears in the state already endure extended hunting seasons in spring and fall, and this would leave them only one month of relative peace.

Senate Resolution 18 and Senate Bill 337 undermine federal efforts to recover grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak and Bitterroot ecosystems and hamstring Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’s ability to relocate grizzly bears, resulting in more bears being killed if they get into conflicts.

Senate Bill 98 allows people to kill any grizzly that came near them or their livestock.

Many of these bills specifically target wolves. Apparently the 300 to 350 wolves killed yearly in Montana are not enough. The Legislature fails to realize that wolves are our allies in fighting the horrific Chronic Wasting Disease decimating Montana’s deer and elk.

House Bill 224 allows neck snares to be used to kill wolves, virtually guaranteeing wolves will suffer and that pet dogs, bears, and other unintended victims will be caught.

The intent of Senate Bill 314 is to reduce Montana wolves to 15 breeding pairs across the state, dooming the state’s 830 wolves to an all-out extermination campaign unseen for 100 years. It turns “hunters” loose with night vision scopes and spotlights and allows a hunter to kill unlimited numbers of wolves.

House Bill 225 extends wolf killing season into mid-March when wolves are pregnant and when bears emerging from hibernation could be unintended trapping and snaring victims. Senate Bill 267 essentially puts a bounty on wolves by reimbursing wolf hunters for their expenses.

Of course wild bison are not spared: House Bill 302 would prevent restoration of wild bison anywhere in the state unless approved by county commissioners, preventing their return to historic habitats. House Bill 314 changes the definition of wild bison and precludes restoration of wild herds.

Montana’s vendetta against wildlife is a dangerous anachronism. Surely we as a nation have moved beyond the 19th Century when hunting and trapping were unregulated, leading to near extermination of many of our iconic animals. To elevate indiscriminate killing to the status of wildlife management ignores science and ecology and the desires of the American people to enjoy wildlife for its own sake.

As a tour guide in Yellowstone, I know how much people, especially kids, value wildlife just for the chance to observe, photograph and learn about animals. The Montana Legislature’s vicious attack on our wildlife is an attack on our state’s wildlife heritage, on our thriving tourism economy and on our children’s right to enjoy and learn from wild nature.

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Nathan Varley is the owner of Yellowstone Wolf Tracker, a nature guiding service in Gardiner.

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