Saturday, January 19, 2013

Anti-Montana Bison Bill - SB 143

The War on Wildlife in the Montana Legislature continues. Senator John Brenden (R) Scobey has introduced an Anti-Montana Bison Bill - SB 143. This bill would require the immediate slaughter, removal and/or sale of all native bison that enter the state of Montana from Yellowstone National Park whether they are on public or private land.

SB 143 Will Create a Zero Tolerance Policy for Native Bison in Southwest Montana: Senator Brendan, an aggressive enemy of wild bison, fails to recognize bison as valued native public wildlife in Montana. He needs to hear from you.

SB 143 Violates the Public Trust as well as Private Property Rights: SB 143 gives anti-bison landowners carte blanche to kill any native public bison that happens to wander across their property. It would force the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department to act as an accomplice to this act. While many private landowners in the Greater Yellowstone Area enjoy native bison, SB 143 would require the Department of Livestock to enter private property without permission to slaughter and/or remove these native bison - so much for respecting private property rights.

SB 143 is also likely Unconstitutional. The Montana Supreme Court (Sacksmen and Rathbone cases) and a very recent court decision in Park County just north of Yellowstone National Park clarify that wildlife are part of the landscape. Most Montana landowners recognize this and understand that some native wildlife use of their property is a responsibility of landownership. In both Sacksmen and Rathbone the court stated, "Wild game existed here long before the coming of man. One who acquires property in Montana does so with the notice and knowledge of the presence of wild game. Accordingly, a property owner in this state must recognize there may be some injury to property from wild game for which there is no recourse."

SB 143 would unreasonably limit Native Bison Translocation in Montana only to the high-fenced National Bison Range at Moiese, which cannot handle any more bison. Thus, SB 143 would prevent any native bison restoration efforts elsewhere in Montana such as the landscape in and around the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in north central Montana.

SB 143 Treats Native Bison as Vermin: Finally, SB 143 would eliminate the current regulated bison hunting license and replace it with a shoot on sight license. No rules, no regulations, no management, no respect – bison could be shot on sight year round.

Comment to the Senate Fish & Game Committee: SB 143 has not been slated for a hearing yet, but it will be heard in the Montana Senate Fish & Game Committee soon. Please send your comments to the Senate Fish & Game Committee here:

On the form below, select "Committee" Scroll down the drop down menu to "Senate Fish and Game" and on the bill line, type "SB 143".

You can also email Senator Brenden directly:

Here is a link to the language of SB 143:

Please spread the word about this anti-Montana bison bill and encourage others to comment.


Glenn Hockett
Volunteer President, Gallatin Wildlife Association 

Note added by Wildlife Advocacy: Senator Brenden is the owner of Brenden Farms in Scobey and also a recipient of $15,478 in subsidies from 2001 to present.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Legislature’s “War on Montana’s Wildlife”

The “War on Montana’s Wildlife” has begun in the 2013 Montana Legislature, as evidenced by a host of anti-wildlife bills working their way through the legislative process.

Last week, the Senate FWP committee heard Sen. Murphy’s (R-Cardwell) bill, whose goal is to make it impossible to reintroduce bighorn sheep anywhere in Montana. Murphy, a rancher, testified that, “I object to the competition being added to the livestock producers who graze their stock there”. Murphy was referring to PUBLIC LANDS, and his attitude is, unfortunately, representative of Montana’s livestock industry, which believes that forage on our PUBLIC LANDS should - first and foremost – be used for grazing cattle and sheep, and that native wildlife are merely an inconvenient “competition for grass”. We have 2.5 million cows in Montana, and Montana’s ranching industry wants to displace public wildlife from public lands, for even more cows.
 There is indeed a “War on Wildlife”; with many species is in the legislature’s crosshairs. There are bills in the drafting process to prevent wild bison from having a place on Montana’s public lands; others to more aggressively remove predators, such as mountain lions,bears, and wolves.
The” War on Montana’s Wildlife” includes bills to use FWP’s budget, which largely comes from sportsmen’s dollars, to pay for livestock killed by grizzlies, and to pay for aggressive programs to address brucellosis in elk, which may involve killing elk who may have been exposed to brucellosis.
The “War on Montana’s Wildlife” is wrong and misguided. Montana’s wildlife is a crucial component of Montana citizen’s heritage, and wildlife has enormous benefits to Montana’s tourism economy, which generates MORE income and jobs than ranching.
Montans’s wildlife is precious. It is threatened. The ranching industry’s legislative “War on Wildlife” is real. GET INVOLVED!

Not all of the above laws are harmful to wildlife. Bills and placeholders to especially watch out for are:
SB 83, LC0155,  HB 73, LC0470, LC0793, LC0847, LC0958, LC0960, LC1105, LC1600, LC1512 - the majority of which are sponsored by rancher legislators.


Monday, January 14, 2013

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land - A Montana Dilemma

by Jim Bailey, Retired Wildlife Biologist

The recent Montana Farm Bureau’s motto is “We care for the country.” It’s marvelously ambiguous. “Care” has two meanings in this context; and “country” has even more. I believe most Montana owners of agricultural land, including stockmen, embrace both meanings of “care” in this motto. I am not so sure what they mean by “country”.

I know a rancher who lives in the house where he was born. His “caring” for the land has deep, personal roots. I can only imagine how growing up, playing, working, and seeking to understand, all in one place for a lifetime can develop connections, wrapped in memories, that evoke such caring for the land.

Likewise, many ranchers and farmers trace their roots back through two or more generations of family traditions. Caring involves an obligation to grandparents and great-grandparents who labored in times that were tougher and lonelier than today. The land and its family history must become inseparable parts of the same whole.

My rancher friend also takes “care” of the land, hoping to pass it along as a productive resource to his son. He observes how stocking rates and pasture rotations affect the grass and the soil. These days, the ranch barely supports a single family, and his wife’s part-time job in town is needed, at least in some years. There will not be better times ahead for his family if the productive capacity of the ranch is degraded.

But, like the rest of us, all ranchers and farmers are not alike. I don’t know if they are new on the ground, but some are ready to abuse the land and its future. Some are absentee landowners seeing the farm or ranch only as a capital investment, a tool to be bought, used and sold to maximize often short-term profit. Very large land holdings of individuals or corporations have been given the name “industrial agriculture”, emphasizing their difference from the family farm that Willie Nelson praised in public concerts. Whatever the group, ranchers, hunters, the driving public, liberals, conservatives, etc., the bad apples among us are often used unjustifiably to portray and vilify an entire group.

Likely, that is part of the reason for ranchers and farmers being so sensitive to their public image. Their abundant and sometimes costly use of mottos such as “We care for the country.” and “Undaunted stewardship” suggests a degree of paranoia over being misunderstood. But public mistrust and misunderstanding persist.

While I’ve cited two ways to “care” for the country, I wonder what “country” the Farm Bureau embraces in “We care for the country.”

When I was a youngster growing up in an Illinois city, my parents would sometimes pass the weekend taking a ride in “the country”. Our city was surrounded by mostly agricultural land. In those days, this land included a few remaining woodlots with fox squirrels to be hunted in fall, and Osage fencerows where wild grapes still grew and pheasants took refuge in winter. A few rivers still held fish – mostly bluegills and bullheads – to be angled for in summer. We also scavenged for freshwater clams, the shells of which would become ash trays in my father’s shop. Though infrequent, those trips to the country played a large part in tilting me toward forestry in college and ultimately to a career in wildlife biology. Today, few woodlots remain and the hedgerows are gone from that rich land that once supported a diverse tallgrass prairie. Mostly, there is only corn and soybeans, except in winter when plowing turns the world to black.

But I digress. In this sense, “country” is the open space outside of urbia and suburbia. It’s the different kind of place that we city folk appreciate and wish to see preserved for all sorts of reasons, including Sunday drives in the country. Many of the reasons involve some form of escape from the monotony of so many shared tasks in town. I guess the Montana Farm Bureau wants us to believe that without agriculture, at least some of this country would be converted to something else. The rationale is used to defend all sorts of activities promoted to benefit and retain agriculture and livestock. It has merit in some places – near cities and in areas with attractive recreational value where development of second homes is likely. However, the idea is often overstated in reference to many less attractive locations.

“Country” might also refer to “our country”, the good old US of A. In this sense, caring for the country is a patriotic endeavor. Obviously, the nation needs food, and caring for the country, in this sense, implies we shall always eat well. Arguments to maintain federal subsidies to agriculture and livestock have been bolstered by claims that such subsidies are needed to keep our country strong. It’s largely a self-serving argument. Nationwide, most agricultural production comes from lands where subsidies are least needed. Moreover, the quality of food produced has sometimes been sacrificed in order to maximize farm profits. Still, the Montana Farm Bureau might be trying to influence the rest of us by appealing to our patriotism.

“Country” may also refer to the “collective harmony” of the land with its productive soils, clean streams and all its wildlife and wild plants, as described by Aldo Leopold. It is country as intended in “wild country”. However, much farm and grazing land is domesticated and the rest is only semi-wild at best. Often agricultural interests take credit for maintaining wildlife habitat and wild country. This claim reveals a limited understanding of the complexities of habitat and of the meaning of “wild”.

Leopold distinguished clearly between country and mere land. Land is an economic resource. It may grow beef, wheat, mortgages, and – hopefully – happy farm and ranch families. Along the way, it may absorb federal subsidies, pesticides and artificial fertilizers. The land’s biota may be limited and monotonous. Not so with country, where all the native plants, animals and invertebrates coevolve with the rocks and the weather. Leopold noted that poor land may be very rich country.

The Farm Bureau may not distinguish between land and country in the manner of Leopold. Frequent demands to manage Yellowstone National Park more like a ranch suggest this is so. Likewise, the long lists of wildlife species and native plants that are unwelcome or ignored on productive farms and ranches indicate that the Farm Bureau promotes caring for the land, but not necessarily for the country.

Wildlife species that are seldom “cared” for on the farm or ranch include coyotes, wolves, bears, mountain lions, bison, beaver, prairie dogs and ground squirrels. Elk might be tolerated in modest numbers. Deer are more acceptable, but not too many. Pronghorn are OK, except in spring wheat fields. Abundant fencing may minimize the number of pronghorn anyway. Without prairie dogs, there are no black-footed ferrets and few, if any, burrowing owls and swift foxes. For sheep ranchers, nearby wild bighorn are unacceptable - to avoid any controversy generated by death of the bighorn due to disease carried by domestic sheep. Removing any of these species has cascading effects on many other species.

Boosting economic production from farm or ranch land always involves practices that monotonize the vegetation. The obvious though unintended result is a loss of many native plant species, especially broad-leaved forbs. Whole plant communities, such as sagebrush steppe, willow thickets, marshes and riparian woodlands are replaced. Wildlife dependent on these communities, or needing a diversity of plant communities to fulfill their seasonal needs, are diminished or eliminated. This is especially true for bird species including prairie-chickens, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, piping and mountain plovers, long-billed curlew, sedge wrens, sharp-tailed sparrows and several others.

Most water management in Montana is designed to benefit agriculture. The Farm Bureau opposes legislation requiring minimum stream flows. Streams are dewatered to the detriment of native fishes and surrounding riparian habitat. Arctic grayling are the most notable casualty. Other fishes such as pearl dace and sturgeon chub have been diminished along with their roles in wildlife food chains.

Given the above, I must conclude that the Farm Bureau cares for the land, but not necessarily for the country. But that’s OK. Private land rights are enshrined in law and in the state constitution, and I concur. However, about 35% of Montana is federal or state land, owned jointly by people of the nation, or at least, the state. It has been said that these lands should be managed “for the greatest good of the greatest number, in the long run.” Montana agricultural organizations, including the Farm Bureau, have been active in politics to determine how our public lands shall be used. They have been successful in gaining special access for using our public lands for private gains; and they limit public options for using the public’s land. This is especially true of the livestock industry.

One may argue that private uses of the public lands generate public benefits. Most state lands leased to agriculture for reasonable fees produce funding for state schools. However, federal grazing rates are so low that net public benefits from federal grazing management are negative. Moreover, agriculture has initiated Montana laws that prohibit state participation in wildlife programs on public, even federal, lands whenever such programs pose a possible threat to agricultural or livestock production – on the public or nearby private lands, and “nearby” is never defined. In response, federal agencies have allowed this private control over public land to continue. One result is that we have cattle on most of our federal public lands, but we have no wild bison. Montana law specifies that the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department must allow livestock trailing across its wildlife areas, may not charge for the forage used, and may not even analyze the ecological impacts.

These and other examples demonstrate that the public/private balance for using our public lands is often skewed toward private benefits at public costs. Agriculture is an important industry, practiced on most of the Montana landscape where economic necessities and profit motives are appropriate. But uses of our public lands should be skewed toward public, not private, benefits. Diversity is the hallmark of democracy and the bedrock of freedom. Much of our public land should be used to produce rich country, as Leopold defined it.

We’re glad the Farm Bureau cares for its lands. We, the public, care just as deeply for our lands, that is, our country.

Jim Bailey, December 2012
Retired wildlife biologist

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why the U.S. Does Not Need a Farm Bill

Fiscal cliff discussions are forcing Americans to evaluate where taxpayer dollars are going, with the realization that tough decisions need to be made. While Americans are being asked to consider Social Security and Medicare cuts, and neglecting crumbling infrastructure, a strong case exists for eliminating unnecessary farm subsidies, amounting to $247 billion from 1995-2009 - a cost of $119/year per taxpayer.

America’s farmers are important, as are our teachers, carpenters, and police, but it’s a difficult case to argue that taxpayers should continue borrowing money from China, and from future generations, to fund this demonstrably unnecessary and expensive entitlement program for an industry that is thriving during these hard times.

The conservative think tank, The Cato Institute, reports that from 2009-2010, farm income increased by 34% - in the midst of a serious recession - when most Americans experienced stagnating and declining wages! In 2011 farm income reached a record high level. Nationally, farmer household income is 26% higher than the average American household. Such income levels argue strongly against the need to subsidize farms.

Neither are farmers experiencing the declining real estate values that are impacting most Americans. During a recession, farmland values in the Midwest have increased 70% since 2009 (Federal Reserve Bank), and is selling at record levels as land is scooped up by cash-flush farmers and investors.

Do farm subsidies truly benefit American consumers, and provide American’s with cheap food? With crops being sold on international markets to the highest bidder, the answer is NO. Montana wheat farmers recently enjoyed a record $1.4 billion harvest, but very little of that crop is feeding Americans - 85% of Montana’s wheat is exported to foreign markets.

Nationally, the export picture is similar for most subsidized crops. USDA statistics show U.S. export figures of:  76% for cotton, 59% for wheat, 43% for soybeans, 50% for rice, and 20% for corn. With such a demonstrated international demand for these crops, why should taxpayers subsidize crops that are not directly benefitting Americans?

Clearly these are good times for farmers across the U.S., and farmers should be saving for the next rainy day, rather than continuing their dependence on taxpayer subsidies to help them survive market fluctuations and vagaries of the weather.  It is a violation of free-market principles for any industry to depend so heavily on subsidies for an extended period, and represents a failed business model.

The conservative Cato Institute strongly supports farm subsidy cuts, and has published a list of “Ten Reasons to Cut Farm Subsidies”, which include lower food prices for consumers, …“innovation and productivity gains on the farm”,  and ...”more economic diversity and dynamism in rural communities”.

Anyone interested in researching where farm subsidy payments are going can visit the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database ( which posts farm subsidy public records from 1995-2009, and is searchable by state, county, and individual farmer. Search results reveal staggering dollar amounts of farm subsidies, and raise questions of how this program became so bloated.

Montana, from 1995-2009 received $5.52 billion in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies. A dramatic example of the perverted levels of agricultural subsidies is eastern Montana’s Daniels County, where from 1995-2009 payments equaled $175 million – a yearly subsidy amounting to $6850 for every resident (not farmer) of that county (EWG Farm Subsidy Database). Similar figures exist for many other Montana counties. Local economies should flourish on their own merits and strengths - with private entrepreneurship and innovation - not a perpetual infusion of federal subsidies.

House Speaker Boehner has stated that all options are on the table to reduce our nation’s budget deficits, but the discussions unfortunately focus on important social programs – like Medicare, Social Security, national infrastructure, cancer research, consumer protection, and environmental safeguards – with 88% of federal spending, including farm subsidies - off the table. Eliminating farm subsidies is an idea whose time has arrived.

Glenn Monahan, Bozeman, has closely followed agricultural issues in Montana for many years.

Originally posted in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as a guest editorial, Jan. 1, 2013. Reprinted here with authors permission.