On January 31, 2013, at the Montana State Capitol, 3:00 PM, lines were being drawn in the sand. A war was brewing, though some would say the war has already been here, it's just gaining momentum.
In an age old military tactic of "divide and conquer", two major anti-wildlife bills had hearings at the same time, though one was not originally scheduled as such. Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. John Brenden (farmer), in Room 303, AN ACT REVISING BISON MANAGEMENT LAWS and House Bill 312, sponsored by Rep. Alan Redfield (rancher) in Room 472. SB 143, AN ACT PROVIDING AUTHORIZATION FOR TESTING AND PREVALENCE REDUCTION OF BRUCELLOSIS IN LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE.
Hunters, Conservationists and Native Americans filled the rooms, room 472 being so small that the public overflowed into the hallway. But, this particular account is the battle that was waged in room 303 - SB 143.
On one side sat the 10 member Montana Senate Fish and Game Committee: John Brenden (R), John (R-Chairman), Owner Brenden Farms; Debby Barrett (R), Rancher - Barrett Ranch, Inc.; Tom Facey (D); Jennifer Fielder (R); Brad Hamlett (D), Rancher - Hamlett Ranch Co. Sun River; Larry Jent (D); Jim Peterson (R), Rancher - Jim Petersen Ranch; Rick Ripley (R-Vice Chairman), Farm & Ranch - Wolf Creek; Fred Thomas (R); and Kendall Van Dyk (D). I find it interesting that half of the Fish and Game committee members are farmers and ranchers. And yes, the Chairman of the committee is the same senator that is sponsoring the bill. This leaves the the vice chairman, Rick Ripley, also a republican and also a farm/ranch owner to preside as "Chairman" over this day's battle.
Brenden opened with a very poor argument for his own bill. The small number of proponents follow, most of which are ranchers/land owners in Gardiner, MT. There is a common thread to their statements, that of property damage, money lost and no compensation. In their eyes the bison are disease laden fiscal liabilities, walking biological warfare agents. As usual, the demonized bison are linked with the wolves, a common pairing at public meetings of either bison or wolves, by their enemies. One of the bill proponents is Bill Hoppe, a resident of Gardiner, whose website lists him as an outfitter. He identified himself as a rancher. In a quote from the New York Times, " He testified before the house committee that metal pens were built at bus stops so children could be safe from bison. 'Buffalo are running free, and we’re corralling our kids in a country where we’re supposed to be free,' Mr. Hoppe testified." The Times journalist Nate Schweber noted, "(The superintendent for Gardiner’s public schools said there were no such pens, however.)" I looked further into the pens. They do exist, they were provided by a non-government organization, due to some of the Gardiner resident concerns, but they have never needed to be used and have been stored with the Forest Service. Hoppe also testified over in room 472, at HB 312, with what sounded like the same speech he read at the SB 143 hearing.
Then the floor is turned over to the SB 143 opponents. They are clearly in the majority and anxious to have an opportunity to testify. The 22nd person to testify was Patrick Dougherty, representing the Bear Creek Council. He spoke of residents in Gardiner, all of them having bison on their properties, that more damage came from deer and elk, than bison. "The idea that they do tremendous amounts of damage is ridiculous. Elk and deer do far more damage to my property than any bison do. I also want to point out that anyone who testified here from Gardiner, brought up one important point, finances. They all want money. They saw across the river that the Church Universal Triumphant got 3 million dollars for their grazing rights. They are not here because they're against bison. They're here because they want you to pay them to have bison." Grazing rights is a common foundational issue on a number of the anti-wildlife issues.
Another major front of this battle was being waged by the Native American tribes from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Nez Perce, the Blackfeet, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, the Crow, and a variety of specific tribal agencies like the Intertribal Buffalo Council, Tribal Fish and Game/Wildlife Departments, and the Montana American Indian Caucus. Native American attorney's pointed out the legalities of treaties, constitutions and spiritual/cultural practices. Comparisons were made to treatment of the bison to the Native Americans, that have been rounded up on reservations. One astute Native American (sorry, I cant sit through this video a 3rd time to catch his name) pointed out the artwork in the upper portion of room, depicting the iconic wild bison. Common on the lips of these bison warriors were the statements of existing governmental co-operations, working groups, and the like that would be in jeopardy should this bill be passed, with good reason, as well as the promise, not an empty threat, that this bill becoming law, "ensures endless litigation." I have to admit, this makes me smile.
Another wildlife warrior, in this particular legislative skirmish, was Glenn Monahan, the 15th opponent to SB 143 and the only person, regardless of time, to be gavelled by Vice Chairman Rick Ripley (R). Glenn Monahan, a Gallatin Wildlife Association member, passionately spoke from a prepared statement, nearly verbatim.
"I was in attendance last session when Sen. Brenden’s earlier bison bill was heard in this committee. That bill was less extreme than today’s bill, and it did not become law.
Yesterday, I downloaded and reviewed the audio transcript of Sen. Brenden’s testimony to this committee from 2011.
He repeatedly made reference that if we allow wild buffalo in Montana, 'there will be a war'.
Well he was right, there is a war! It’s a War on Wildlilfe being waged in the legislature at the behest of the radical fringe of the ranching industry.
The radical War on Wildlife is manifesting itself with a bill to ban bighorn sheep transplants, another to create an elk capture, test, and slaughter program when elk are inconveniencing livestock producers, and now we have SB143 – The 'shoot ‘em at the border' bill. The legislative War on Wildlife is real.
This bill is EXTREME. The mere introduction of this bill is an embarrassment for our state, and if this bill attracts national media attention, it has the potential to do great harm to Montana’s highly lucrative and rapidly growing tourism industry. Economies thrive on diversity, and this unnecessary bill will negatively impact our state’s tourism business, while doing essentially nothing to benefit the livestock industry. We should be nurturing tourism in every way we can.
In 2010, the Interagency Bison Management Partners authorized the formation of a Bison Citizens Working Group of which I am a member. It was comprised of a cross section of Montanans, including moderate members of the ranching industry, Jim Hagenbarth (Dillon), Lorents Grosfield (Big Timber), and Ariel Overstreet (staffer with Montana Stockgrowers Association).
We met monthly for 2 years, during which time we did what the legislature does – we discussed and deliberated, AND recognizing that survey’s have show that 68% of Montanans favor wild bison. WE COMPROMISED, and problem solved, with a lot of effort to satisfy all of the diverse interests.
Recently, the CWG presented its consensus recommendations regarding wild bison - some highlights of which included:
1. expanded habitat for bison – outside the Park in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem AS A MANAGED SPECIES
2. respect for private property rights, and
3. recognizing the concerns of livestock producers
The extreme position that SB143 represents is a slap in the face to the 40+ citizens who invested much time and energy to come up with equitable solutions. I believe that legislators, as representatives of our entire citizenry, have an obligation to respect the work of the CWG, and SB 143 is emphatically not the way to show that support.
In closing I’ll offer one final quote from Senator Brenden’s 2011 committee hearing … he said, 'I’ve been fighting dialogue all my life'.
So the approach of SB143 is 'my way or the highway'. No dialogue and no compromise. It’s a bill based on fear, anger, and emotion. I urge (at this point Glenn gets gavelled) the committee to table this bill – you will be saving Montana from the embarrassment of this bill (Ripley gavels again saying, 'That's enough. Next opponent.' You can hear Sen. Brenden say, 'Thank you Mr. Chairman.' Glenn does not get to finish his statement, but you can read it.)– protecting our livestock industry and our tourism industry from the wrath that it will generate. And Senator Brenden, I think that my beloved state of Montana would be best served by you withdrawing this bill."
The following is a list of the many and varied Opponents who testified (in order), to Senator John Brenden's "ridiculous" SB 143:
Senator Jonathan Windy Boy; Ruben Mathias, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Tribal Councilman; McCoy Oatman, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee; Germaine White, Information and Education Specialist, Natural Resources Department Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; John Harrison, Attorney Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Jim Posewitz, hunting and wildlife author; Mike Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition; Claudia Narcisco, Montana Chapter Sierra Club; Kit Fischer, National Wildlife Federation, Northern Rockies and Prairies Regional Center; Craig Knowles, Bison Quest; Pat Flowers, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Region 3 Supervisor; Ervin Carlson, Intertribal Buffalo Council; Dustin Monroe, Executive Director Western Native Voice; Charles Walking Child; Glenn Monahan; Robert Magnan, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Fish and Game Department; Nick Gevock, Montana Wildlife Federation; Burdette Birdinground, Crow Tribal Member; Ray Yazzie; Wes Heustes; Vito Quatraro, Montana Sportsmen Alliance; Patrick Dougherty, Bear Creek Council; Mike Fox, Fort Belknap Tribal Council; Stephanie Gillin, Tribal Wildlife Biologist; Matt Skoglund, Natural Resource Defense Council; Terry Tanner, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Mark Azure, Director Fish and Wildlife Program, Fort Belknap; David Ditloff; Darrell Geist, Buffalo Field Campaign; Ron Skates, President, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society; Fred Matt, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Christian Mackay, Montana Department of Livestock; Mike Leahy, Rocky Mountain Region Director Defenders of Wildlife; Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, American Indian Caucus.
For those that would like to view the Montana SB 143 hearing, click on the SB 143 link below the video screen and save yourself 16 minutes of the Roll Call.
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