Mar 31

WY: Feds agree to review wolf-killing policy

Feds agree to review wolf-killing policy

JACKSON, Wyo. – Federal officials have agreed to review a proposal that would allow states to kill wolves that are depleting numbers of elk and other wildlife.

Wyoming has been negotiating with the federal government over how wolves will be managed between proposed and formal removal of endangered-species protection. The process could take a several years while lawsuits over wolf management are worked out.

Mitch King, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Friday that his agency was looking toward amendment of its rules, to allow states to kill wolves that are depleting big-game numbers over the interim period.

Currently wolves may be killed only if they’re preying on livestock.

Ed Bangs, the federal wolf recovery coordinator for the lower 48 states, said he hopes the proposed change will prompt Wyoming to develop a wolf management plan the Fish and Wildlife Service deems acceptable.

But Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank said Wyoming cannot and will not have a new wolf management plan by May, when the federal government plans to have the change in the wolf-killing rule drafted and opened for public comment.

“It’s pretty ironic that after stonewalling us for three years, they’re asking for something by May,” Crank said.

He said Wyoming was “charging ahead as hard as we can” with its lawsuit to force the federal government to accept Wyoming’s 2003 wolf management plan. Approval of a state wolf plan is necessary for wolf delisting to proceed in Wyoming.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has accepted management plans submitted by Idaho and Montana but not Wyoming, prompting Wyoming to sue.

This year, the Legislature passed a bill that largely complies with revised federal requirements for wolf delisting. That includes an area in northwest Wyoming where wolves would be categorized as trophy game and subject to regulated hunting. Elsewhere, wolves would be classified as predators and could be shot on sight.

But the bill takes effect only if wolves are removed from Endangered Species Act protection by next February and if the federal government allows wolves to be killed to protect wildlife.

Crank said that if federal officials want to see a wolf management plan, they can read the new state statute and see what would happen. He said it is up to the federal government to meet the law’s stipulations to make sure the law doesn’t “vanish.”

King said the proposed amendment is not directly a result of issues with Wyoming, but came about because the agency knows increased wolf numbers affect wildlife.

“What we’re trying to do is plan ahead for that and keep the continued expansion of wolf populations from having a significant adverse impact on the elk populations,” he said.

Under the new state law, wolves harming big game herds could be killed as long as the state maintains 17 breeding pairs of wolves. The proposed federal language would require Wyoming to have at least 20 breeding pairs before wolf killing would be allowed as a way to preserve wildlife.

Wyoming currently has an estimated 26 wolf packs.

A report released by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department this week concluded that wolves have been hurting cow-calf ratios in four of the eight elk herds in wolf territory. Officials attributed the decline to drought and habitat loss, as well as wolf predation.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 31

WY: Feds plan another wolf concession

Feds plan another wolf concession

Star-Tribune environmental reporter

JACKSON — One of the major stumbling blocks preventing removal of federal protection for wolves in Wyoming appears to be crumbling, as the federal government has agreed to review a policy allowing wolves to be killed if they are hurting wildlife.

Wyoming’s inability to kill wolves to protect elk before delisting has been one of the primary unmet demands by Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials in negotiations with federal officials regarding wolf management.

Mitch King, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Friday his agency is looking to amend its rules to allow states to kill wolves that are harming big game in the period between proposed and formal delisting. He hopes the changes will be drafted by May and open for public comment.

Ed Bangs, federal wolf recovery coordinator for the lower 48 states, said he hopes the amendment to the so-called “10(j) rule” will prompt Wyoming to develop an acceptable wolf management plan.

He said one of the goals of amending the rule is to “make it easier to get Wyoming on board” with delisting, and to recognize that other states have “legitimate concerns” about impacts to elk and other ungulates, dogs and livestock.

King said for Wyoming to be on board with the current delisting proposal — out for public comment now — a plan would have to be submitted by May.

But Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank said the state won’t and can’t have a new wolf management plan by May.

“It’s pretty ironic that after stonewalling us for three years, they’re asking for something by May,” Crank said.

He said the state is “charging ahead as hard as we can” with its lawsuit to force the federal government to accept Wyoming’s 2003 wolf management plan. Approval of a state wolf plan is necessary for wolf delisting to proceed in Wyoming.

This year, the Legislature passed a bill that largely complies with revised federal requirements for wolf delisting. That includes an area in northwest Wyoming where wolves would be categorized as trophy game and subject to regulated hunting. Outside that zone, wolves would be classified as predators and could be shot on sight.

But that bill takes effect only if wolves are removed from Endangered Species Act protection by February 2008, and if the federal government amends the 10(j) rule to allow killing of wolves to protect wildlife. Currently, federal agents are authorized to kill wolves only if they’re preying on livestock.

Crank said if the federal officials want to see a wolf management plan, they can read the new state statute and see what would happen. He said it is up to the federal government to meet some of the stipulations in the new plan to make sure the law doesn’t “vanish.”

In an opinion column in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup this month, Freudenthal wrote that the federal government has bent to Wyoming’s state management plan by agreeing to the dual status of predator and trophy game, and has agreed that Wyoming can manage for seven breeding pairs of wolves outside Yellowstone National Park instead of 15.

“Two years ago, no one would have predicted that the Service would show this degree of flexibility on wolf management,” Freudenthal wrote. “We hope that this willingness to cooperate opens the door for Wyoming and the federal government to reach a resolution that protects the wildlife and livestock interests of the state.”

The current 10(j) language dictates that wolves can be killed only if they are determined to be the primary cause of elk population decline, instead of simply having only some impact.

King said the proposed amendment is not directly a result of issues with Wyoming, but rather, because the agency knows there are impacts to wildlife from increased wolf numbers.

“What we’re trying to do is plan ahead for that and keep the continued expansion of wolf populations from having a significant adverse impact on the elk populations,” King said.

Wyoming officials have been adamant about killing wolves that are harming big game populations in the interim period between proposed delisting and actual delisting, which they believe will be several years.

In the new law passed by lawmakers this year, the state would have the ability to kill wolves that are harming big game herds as long as there were 17 breeding pairs of wolves in the state in the period before delisting.

Under the eyed language for the amended 10(j) rule, Wyoming would have to have at least 20 breeding pairs statewide for the killing in the name of wildlife to be allowed.

King said the difference should not be a surprise to the state, as he has talked with officials here and biologists about what the “triggers” should be to assess wolf impacts on big game herds.

Freudenthal, however, indicated that it is the federal government that will have to change its stance to accept Wyoming’s previously submitted plan.

The federal plan

The current federal delisting proposal — open for public comment through May — includes Montana and Idaho, and the majority of Wyoming outside the northwest corner.

Most of Wyoming’s wolves would be classified as predators even under the current delisting plan, as the Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that populations outside northwest Wyoming are not critical to maintain desired wolf numbers. Critics maintain the wolf population will be at great risk if in most of the state the animals could be killed at any time, for any reason.

Once wolves are delisted, the states can manage wolves however they choose — providing they each maintain a minimum of 10 breeding pairs. Federal officials have approved plans calling for maintaining 15 breeding pairs to provide “breathing room” in case something dramatic happens to some of the wolf populations.

Wyoming, now with an estimated 26 packs, has said it wants to manage for the minimum number of wolves.

Idaho and Montana have developed federally accepted wolf management plans, and are currently operating under the 10(j) rule, which gives them more flexibility to deal with problem wolves.

Impact on elk

A report released by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department this week concluded that wolves are hurting cow-calf ratios in four of the eight elk herds within home range of wolf packs.

Officials also attributed the decline in calf numbers to long-term drought and habitat, but said the decline sharpened after wolf reintroduction.

Game and Fish biologists have set a minimum ratio of 25 calves per 100 cows in order to maintain hunting opportunities and have said there is “little opportunity for hunting” when the ratio falls below 20 calves per 100 cows.

The four elk herds in Wyoming that have wolves present and are experiencing declines have dropped below 25 calves per 100 cows, and two of those herds have fewer than 20 calves per 100 cows, according to Game and Fish.

Meredith Taylor, with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said Game and Fish is spinning data to show wolves are having a greater impact than they actually are. She said in the northern area of Yellowstone, studies have shown black and grizzly bears have a bigger impact on calf elk than wolves.

“It would be to the Game and Fish Department’s benefit to honestly demonstrate the data provided in their own biologist’s report and recommend statewide trophy game status for the gray wolf in order to proceed with delisting and eventually hunting wolves,” Taylor said.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 30

NM: Sides square off in wolf debate

Sides square off in wolf debate

The Associated Press

LAS CRUCES  The divide in public opinion over a program to reintroduce endangered Mexican gray wolves to the wild is daunting, a federal official says.

“I feel we are losing the ability to have constructive dialogue,” said Christopher Todd Jones, deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There are clearly legitimate concerns people have regarding (livestock and pet) depredation and life safety concerns,” he said. “The answer is somewhere in the middle.”

Jones made his comments Wednesday during a two-hour hearing called by the state Game Commission to gather comments from supporters and critics of the program.

The Fish and Wildlife Service began releasing the wolves on the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998 to re-establish the species in part of its historic range after the animals had been hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s.

Environmentalists complain that program managers are undermining the recovery effort with aggressive policies.

Ranchers say wolves are killing livestock, hunters complain the animals are thinning elk herds, and other critics contend the wolves are frightening children.

Julia Martin, an Arizona psychiatrist who interviewed Catron County children at the commission’s request, said most of those she talked to startled more easily than before wolf introduction.

But two Silver City teenagers who frequently hike in the Gila Mountains said they don’t fear the wolves.

“The uniqueness of the Gila is it is still wild,” said Cody Goss, 17. “This is something that cannot be replaced.”

Catron County Commissioner Ed Wehrheim requested Wednesday that all wolves that appear to show no fear of humans be removed from the recovery area.

The County Commission has adopted an ordinance that would allow a designated county officer to trap or remove wolves if federal authorities don’t act first. The ordinance conflicts with federal procedures, raising questions about its legality.

Randy Lack, spokesman for the Mesilla Valley Sportsmen’s Alliance, submitted a petition with 700 signatures calling for the end to the program.

But Sandy Schemnitz  president of Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen, a group that supports the recovery effort  said he would like to see the wolves managed scientifically.

Game Commission Chairman Alfredo Montoya said Wednesday’s session was intended to give commissioners a better understanding of views on the program.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 30

MI: Wolves remain elusive in lower Michigan

Wolves remain elusive in lower Michigan

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich., March 30 (UPI) — Michigan wildlife officials said they are convinced there are gray wolves in the Lower Peninsula even though no one has spotted a pack.

Wildlife biologists with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have been looking into reports of wolf sightings in Lower Michigan for three years without turning up evidence of a pack.

The DNR received 219 reports of wolf sightings in the Lower Peninsula last year and officials say at least a few wolves are probably roaming the woods, the Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle reported.

“They are here, probably in small numbers, and are staying away from people,” wildlife biologist Brian Mastenbrook told the newspaper.

More than 400 wolves live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is separated from the rest of the state by the Straits of Mackinac.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 30

AK: Judge strikes down wolf bounty

Judge strikes down wolf bounty


Anchorage Daily News

A state judge today told the state to stop paying pilots and aerial gunners $150 to kill wolves.

State Superior Court Judge Bill Morse said the cash payments are bounties and the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t have legal authority to offer it, according to an account of the court hearing from Mike Grisham, an Anchorage attorney representing Friends of Animals.

The state is now considering options still available to boost wolf-kill numbers, including state biologists shooting them from chartered helicopters, said Matt Robus, state director of wildlife conservation.

“We understand his judgment … and well explore our options.”

Friends of Animals and other conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, filed suit Tuesday asking the judge to immediately stop the bounty.

Fish and Game managers announced March 21 that they would offer the cash in an effort to boost wolf kills in the five areas where the states aerial predator-control program is in place in portions of the Interior and Southcentral. The four-year program, designed to save caribou and moose from wolves, is behind schedule this year, especially in the Interior.

State biologists this month said they wanted 382 to 664 wolves killed in those areas by the time the predator-control season ends April 30.

As of Wednesday, aerial gunners, hunter and trappers had killed 151 wolves, the state reported.

Fish and Game officials claimed the cash was not a bounty but an incentive that would provide the state with biological information. They said they had authority under a state law allowing the department to pay for biological specimens.

Only pilots and gunners permitted to kill wolves under the predator-control program — there were 193 as of Wednesday — were eligible for the bounty if they turned in the left front legs of wolves, which can provide information about health and age.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 30

WY: Feds to relax wolf regulation

Feds to relax wolf regulation

By Cory Hatch

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make it easier for states to kill wolves that harm wildlife numbers in an attempt to reach a compromise with Wyoming on the states wolf management plan, officials announced Thursday.

Fish and Wildlife regional director Mitch King said the agency plans to alter the 10(j) rule, which gives states the authority to kill wolves that attack livestock, herding and guarding animals, and dogs under certain circumstances. The rule applies only to states with approved management plans, namely Idaho and Montana, and applies only while the wolf is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The rule also allows states to kill wolves that cause unacceptable losses to wildlife if those wildlife populations drop below state objectives. The states must complete a stringent review process and losses to wildlife must be directly linked to wolf depredation.

The new rule would loosen the requirements for when states can kill wolves when they are harming wildlife numbers. It would allow states to kill wolves based not just on state objectives but also on indicators such as cow-calf ratios and cow survivability.

They [the states] can be a little more liberal about wolves that are adversely affecting wildlife populations, King said. While you may have a population that is still above objective, you can have some real red flags popping up because the cow-calf ratio is too low and cow survivability is too low. What were attempting to do is to prevent the population from crashing rather than wait for it to crash and then do something.

Fish and Wildlife officials hope to finalize the language in the new rule by the end of April and will release the document for a 30-day public comment period by mid-summer. King called the proposal to modify the 10(j) rule a correction course.

[The current rule] was written very well by lawyers, King said. [But] we started to realize that some of the language is, for the most part, an unattainable goal.

Fish and Wildlife wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs agreed that the language requiring wolves to be the primary cause of ungulate decline is unrealistic.

Wolves are never the primary cause of an ungulate decline  never, he said, though wolves can exacerbate conditions such as drought and disease in ungulate herds.

Although officials are still finalizing the language in the new rule, Bangs said the agency would likely allow management actions on wolves harming wildlife only if the wolf population in a given state is more than 20 breeding pairs and 200 wolves. Such an action would also have to be based on peer-reviewed science and would have to go through a public review process.

Bangs said the new rule is partly an attempt to reach a compromise with Wyoming on the states management plan, versions of which have, so far, been rejected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Were doing our darnedest to work towards achieving what Wyoming wanted … and to try and get them on board to delist.

Wyoming is required to come up with an acceptable wolf management plan for the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the animals from Endangered Species Act protection. State lawmakers had wanted less-stringent rules during the delisting process, expected to take up to six years.

Craig Kenworthy, conservation director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said Fish and Wildlife is bowing to pressure from Wyoming.

It seems inappropriate for them to reduce that standard in an attempt to placate Wyoming, he said, saying it would be unfortunate if U.S. Fish and Wildlife allowed wolves to be killed because of big game if the decision wasnt based on sound science.

Franz Camenzind, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, called the decision disappointing.

Im not surprised, he said. It shows how certain individuals in this state simply want to kill wolves, even before theyre delisted.

In addition to modifying the 10(j) rule, King said he hopes Wyoming will offer a new management plan by May 1. King said the deadline is necessary to fulfill obligations in the wolf delisting process.

Spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Freudenthal Cara Eastwood said, We have received the request from Fish and Wildlife and we will be responding.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department did not return calls seeking comment on the new 10(j) rule.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife has extended the comment period on the current wolf delisting proposal until May 9. Comments can be electronically mailed to, hand-delivered to USFWS, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601, or mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 29

Montana may join Wyo wolf suit

Montana may join Wyo wolf suit

Associated Press writer

HELENA, Mont. — Some Democrats cried foul Tuesday over plans to send $150,000 to a Wyoming law firm so the Legislature can join a brewing lawsuit over the failure to remove wolves from the endangered species list.

The House endorsed the plan to help the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd challenge the federal government over the wolf issue. Supporters said the lawsuit, not yet filed, will give the state a seat at the table as an anticipated decision to delist moves into the courtroom.

Opponents said the lawsuit would be a waste of money since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is already working hard to delist wolves. They argued it is particularly wrong to pay a Wyoming law firm to do the work, and to send another $50,000 to beef up legislative staff to monitor the lawsuit.

“That just sounds like more government to me,” said Rep. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman.

The House endorsed the bill to join the lawsuit on a 58-41 vote, with some Democrats joining Republican backers of the plan. It faces a Senate controlled by Democrats.

Supporters said wolves need to be delisted as soon as possible so that state managers can curb their numbers, perhaps with hunting. Ranchers are paying the price in the meantime, they argued.

“It is no longer profitable to raise cattle to feed to wolves,” said Rep. Diane Rice, R-Harrison. “This is such a serious issue.”

Rice said the Wyoming law firm was chosen because it has already taken the steps needed to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd.

Opponents said it sets a bad precedent to let the Legislature get involved in lawsuits brought by third-party groups. Rep. Sue Dickenson, D-Great Falls, pointed out the state could next join the ACLU in a lawsuit against the federal government over the U.S. Patriot Act.

“The precedent here is the issue,” she said.

The measure earmarks the money specifically for the Budd-Falen law firm of Cheyenne, and includes a $15,000 retainer. It states that the Legislature would manage involvement in the lawsuit, not the attorney general.

Wolves were reintroduced to the northern Rocky Mountains a decade ago after being hunted to near-extinction. They now number more than 1,200 in the region, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started the process of removing federal protections from wolves in Idaho and Montana within a year.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 29

MT: Wolf numbers increase

Wolf numbers increase

About 316 wolves now inhabit Montana, nearly equally distributed between the state’s northern and southern populations, according to the annual wolf conservation and management report released by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

FWPs report, which is available on line at, shows Montana’s wolf population increased about 19 percent from last year. The minimum Montana wolf population is estimated at 316 wolves, in 60 verified packs, and 21 breeding pairs.

FWPs report is part of the annual federal recovery update required by the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The end of 2006 count also estimates that 311 wolves inhabit Wyoming and 673 wolves inhabit Idaho.

Most of the increase in Montana’s wolf population occurred in northwestern Montana where the population grew by about 41 wolves. In the southern portion of the state the population increased by about 19 wolves.

“We’re certain part of the increase is related to efforts to look harder to find wolves and to the fact that hundreds of people took the time to tell us where and when they saw wolves or wolf sign,” said Carolyn Sime, FWP’s wolf management coordinator in Helena.

In the northwestern Montana endangered area, biologists estimate the wolf population at 167 wolves, in 31 verified packs, and 11 breeding pairs. In the southwestern Montana experimental area, biologists estimate the wolf population at 149 wolves, in 29 verified packs, and 10 breeding pairs.

While wolves are listed under the Endangered Species Act, they remain under two different sets of federal regulations in Montana. These regulations provide guidelines for what lethal and non-lethal tools landowners and others can use to protect livestock and domestic animals from wolves.

Of the 65 wolf deaths documented in 2006, 53 were related to livestock depredations, four were killed illegally, and two were struck by vehicles. Others died from a variety of causes common to all wildlife species, including poor health and old age.

Confirmed cattle deaths in Montana increased from 23 in 2005 to 32 in 2006, but confirmed sheep death losses decreased from 33 to four. Two llamas and four dogs were also confirmed killed by wolves. Additional losses and injuries occurred, but either could not be verified or were determined to be “probable” wolf kills. Genetic testing also revealed that a domestic wolf, and not a wild wolf, was responsible for a series of sheep depredations in eastern Montana.

“We know Montana’s wolves inhabit places where people live, work and recreate,” Sime said. “We expect and try to anticipate conflicts and gear much of our wolf management work toward helping landowners reduce the risk of livestock depredations.”

Sime noted that of 53 wolves that were killed to prevent further depredations, four were killed by private citizens in southern Montana’s experimental area. She said a variety of nonlethal tools were also employed in cooperation with landowners to reduce potential conflicts.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to delist the northern Rocky Mountains gray wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming–and parts of Washington and Utah–based in part on the USFWS’s determination that the northern Rocky Mountain population has exceeded recovery goals and all potential threats to the wolf, except inadequate state regulations in northwestern Wyoming, have been resolved.

The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves for three consecutive years, a goal that was attained in 2002 and has been exceeded every year since. The complete 2006 Northern Rockies interagency report is available online at:

Comments on the proposal to delist the northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves can be sent via email to:; or mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 29

AK: Defenders of Wildlife asks judge to shut down Palin’s wolf bounty program

Defenders of Wildlife asks judge to shut down Palin’s wolf bounty program

Newswire Services

Bounty Law Repealed in 1984  Alaska Does Not Have Regulatory Authority to Impose New Incentives.

Anchorage, AK — This week, Defenders of Wildlife, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club asked the Alaska Superior Court to shut down Governor Palin’s $150-per-wolf bounty program citing the fact that Alaska’s bounty laws were repealed in 1984 and the State has no current legal authority to implement the bounties.

“The Governor is overstepping her legal authority by offering cash payments for each wolf killed by aerial gunners,” stated Tom Banks, Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska Associate. “That’s a bounty by anyone’s standards regardless of what they call it.”

Hoping to boost the number of wolves killed this year by permitees, Palin announced the state would pay $150 for each kill. According to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) news release, the bounty was instituted to “motivate permittees to redouble their efforts and to help offset the high cost of aviation fuel, ADF&G will offer cash payments to those who return biological specimens to the department.” The state’s press release, issued last Wednesday, indicates that “Permittees will be paid $150 when they bring in the left forelegs of wolves taken from any of several designated control areas.”

“Governor Palin needs to take a close look at wildlife management practice in her state and restore the use of sound science,” concludes Banks. “She said would heed the will of the public, but it’s increasingly clear she’s only listening to that segment that is willing to sacrifice Alaska’s natural heritage for the benefit of a few.”

The judge is expected to make a decision fairly quickly.

Defenders and the co-plaintiffs expressed an additional concern that the bounty offered by the State will encourage the illegal killing of wolves outside the control area.

Defenders of Wildlife is represented by Mike Frank of Trustees for Alaska, a public interest law firm, and Valerie Brown, an Anchorage attorney in private practice.


Posted in Uncategorized
Mar 29

MT: Freshman Montana Legislator Learns Ignorance Not Blissful

Freshman Montana Legislator Learns Ignorance Not Blissful

Should laws be based on facts?

By Todd Wilkinson

As with many of his contemporaries heading off this winter to various citizen legislatures in the West, theres a lot of Jefferson Smith infused in the idealism of freshman State Representative Mike Phillips of Montana.

Like the fictional U.S. senator played by Jimmy Stewart in the Frank Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Phillips confesses that he went to Helena with an elevated sense of purpose about how government is supposed to work. He honestly believed that big ideas are debated openly, objectively, forthrightly and blindly to the interference of crass partisan politics, no matter whether the wind blows from the Left or the Right. Carried in the breeze are facts that people should be able to agree upon.

Seated in a chamber where paintings by famous frontier artist Charles M. Russell loom large, Phillips wasted little time in drafting bills.

What he has been initiated into, however, is not a session based on the power of forensic pursuasion. Rather, it has become a four month slog that, in the eyes of many observers on both sides of the political aisle, has degenerated into one of the most divisive and mean-spirited civic episodes in decades. And to think, at least in the Montana House of Representatives, that the script setting up the rancor in that body follows very closely to the one that involved recounts and put George W. Bush in the White House in 2001 rather than Vice President turned global warming crusader Al Gore.

By profession, Phillips is a trained wildlife biologist and former civil servant who helped to successfully usher wolves back to the Southeastern U.S. (red wolves) and Yellowstone National Park (gray). He studied grizzlies in the Alaskan Far North, worked under the mentorship of famed wolf biologist L. David Mech, and spent most of his life in the field, on the ground, talking to local residents about the value of wildlife in their lives. Phillips says hes far from perfect, but the last few decades have given him a special obvious expertise with natural resource issues. And his cautious nature stems from having his scientific opinions, published in peer-review journals, routinely subjected to vetting and scrutiny by friendly and hostile colleagues.

He, naively, he says, expected to find elected officials in Helena who, having had their platforms vetted by voters, were also open to subjecting their perspectives to challenge in the art of statesmanship. But there is no peer-review process in citizen politics; no establishment of baseline facts; no arbiter who says that what an elected official says is truth or fiction. There is no reprimand for speaking hearsay or gleaning ones information from the tall tales that swirl in taverns and are later proved to be mythology.

As Phillips has largely chomped down on his tongue as a painful reminder to himself that he went to Helena to be a better listener than an grandstander, he has learned that without any of the checks and balances in the way information is disseminated in support of laws drafted and passed, it can be a free for all.

Laws can be made based upon false pretenses, erroneous information, and grudges.

Phillips by now has heard hundreds of bills being debated, and hes watched ping pong being played between his parties over how to set a responsible budget that reflects the needs and desires of Montana citizens.

On the wolf front, the Democrat from Bozeman, a community located at the northern peripherary of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, has actually expressed support for controlling lobo populations, albeit through sound science rather than unsubstantiated hysteria.

Today with more certainly than when he drove to Helena in early January, he believes THE greatest issue facing Americans, however, is rethinking the way energy is produced amid the daunting challenges ahead associated with climate change.

Energy is the lodestar of the future, he says. How it lights and powers the world has vital long-term implications for Montanas business prosperity, for the way resources are used, for the health of the global environment to which his own states fate is intimately and inextricably linked, and to that amorphous but soulful phenomenon that Westerners call quality of life.

It is part of the essence of being an American, Phillips saysthat willingness to sacrifice in order to leave your children and grandchildren a better world. It is an ethic that is a core value of military service, those in natural resource management professions, those in public education, and in the moral obligation most parents possess.

How difficult it is, he admits, for elected officials to appropriate money and enact laws that are forward minded, that accrue dividends into the future, without being handicapped by short horizon lines or personal greed.

Within the first weeks of Phillips arrival in Montanas state capital, he founded an entity called the Climate Change Caucus comprised, as it turns out, only of Democrats. The Caucus, as of this moment, does not include ANY Republicans. Republicans have been invited and welcomed to engage in the dialog and except for a few GOP Senators who attended early seminars, they have stayed away, pretending, apparently, that climate change doesnt exist. Their obstinance, Phillips says, is hurting Montana.

Phillips introduced a bill that directs the state to pursue goals for alternative energy advanced by 25 X 25, a special initiative of the non-partisan Energy Future Coalition. The goal is to have a quarter of all the energy generated in the U.S. come from renewable fuel sources by 2025 and it gives added weight to the contributions made by agriculture.

The EFC happens to be an organization that grew out of the Turner Foundation established by global media visionary Ted Turner. When Phillips isnt on sabbatical as a citizen legislator, he oversees the Turner Endangered Species Fund. He works for Ted, once a devout card-carrying Republican, and he has access to some of the brightest thinkers in the multinational business communityyes, including powerful executives who happen to be Republican with whom Turner has forged friendships over the years.

Turner just bought a stake in a solar power company; he is investigating the potential for generating wind power on his ranches in the West; and his president of the Turner Foundation and former Yellowstone Park Superintendent, Mike Finley, is working closely with the National Restaurant Association on a pioneering intiative to promote fuel efficiency in restaurants nationwide.

Even if the existence of human-caused climate change were not substantiated solidly by science, Phillips says the actions being proposed to address climate change would be no less valid, for energy conservation, investing in sustainable alternatives to oil [Bush, after all, has said America must rid itself of its addiction to oil], and being at the forefront of cleaner coal technology, make sense for the national security, economic prosperity, and environmental health of Montana and the nation.

The other day, Phillips told me that hed like to start a dialog with his legislative counterparts in Cheyenne and Boise about taking a regional approach to energy that makes this part of the northern Rockies and western plains a powerhouse for producing energy cleaner and more prosperously, letting the states more effectively dictate the terms of exporting energy resources rather than having them dictated to them by large populous states down the grid. The days of Montana allowing itself to be treated as a Third World natural resource colony to the large cities must end, he says.

Whats the first epiphany Phillips had as a newly minted Montana politician? It involves accountability for backing up what one says. Im afraid that people, even elected officials, make decisions they are not qualified to make. Its been eye opening for me to see that theres no process requiring a legislator to demonstrate even a basic command of an issue before he or she steps forward to vote on it. Their votes can have far-reaching consequences and they owe it to their constituents to be educated.

The 2007 session in Helena has turned into a donnybrook, with Republican lawmakers who hold a one-vote edge in the House of Representatives slashing funding or turning back increases for social, environmental, and other programs in the name of fiscal conservatism and smaller government. Yet they support government subsidies without being willing to discuss them.

Republicans who side on issues with Democrats are considered traitors, and threatened with being rendered ineffectual but the same kind of attitude exists among Democrats, too.

This week, Phillips watched his GOP colleagues approve, on largely partisan lines, an appropriation of $200,000 to have Montana join a lawsuit to hasten the delisting of wolves.

Diane Rice, a Republican from Harrison, wants Montana citizens to spend $200,000 of taxpayer money helping a group called Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herda controversial organization founded by anti-wolf zealot Robert T. Fanningto force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove lobos from federal protection.

The money, most likely, would go to the law firm of Karen Budd-Falen in Cheyenne, Wyoming, who has been retained by Fanning and has been a major player in the latest version of the anti-government Wise Use Movement” and which has cultivated a reputation for challenging environmental laws. Some members of Budd-Falens staff served as interns with PERC in Bozeman, headed by political economist Terry Anderson who has served as an environmental advisor to former Interior Secretary Gale Norton and who, more recently, wrote an editorial supporting the overturning of Montanas stream access law.

Budd-Falens website states: We represent industry clients in BLM and Forest Service appeals. We also represent clients in litigation arising under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other environmental statutes. In other words, the firm has represented clients in industry that have pushed back against the federal governments enforcement of those laws. The firm also is representing a man, Mr. Fanning, who said that wolves have turned Yellowstone into a biological desert and that wolves have destroyed entire Montana communities. Those kinds of assertions may make for great headlines in the supermarket rag, The World Weekly News next to fictional stories about Sasquatch, but theyre pure fiction. And yet, there are legislators in Montana who believe them. [NewWest.Net columnist Dan Whipple has has an excellent overview of wolves? impacts on park elk in a piece written for High Country News Writers On The Range that is carried by Headwaters News].

The appropriation of Montana taxpayer dollars by Rice to help a private group marshall a lawsuit, whose aim is to accomplish something that the Fish and Wildlife Service already is pursuing [i.e. delisting of wolves], is interesting given the charges made by people like Rice who in the past have accused Democrats of being free-spending and environmentalists of being litigious.

But Rice also has distinguished herself by calling upon the state to spend thousands of dollars on radio transceivers to be placed around the necks of wolves so that parents constantly know if wolves are in an area. Rice once claimed, with a straight face, that school children at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park cant walk to school without being in constant mortal fear that wolves might gobble them up. As of today, the total number of school children in Montana, Wyoming or anywhere else in the West who have ever been documented to be attacked by wolves going back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition: 0.

State wildlife officials thought Rices proprosal was so silly and misquided that they were hesitant to even respond to it. This is an elected official trying to make a law and spend public dollars that, when the information she used was faced with fact-checking, proved to be absolutely false.

Rice is not alone.

She shares philosophical affinity with Representative Krayton Kerns, a Republican and veterinarian from Laurel, who is best known for three things. First, it was because of Mr. Kerns winning a recount by three votes over incumbent Democrat Emelie Eaton that the balance of power shifted from being in the hands of Democrats to Republicans. Nothing wrong with that; its how the votes added up but the delay of resolving who was the winner in Kerns House district fueled the enmity between the parties as each eyed control of the House.

Second, Mr. Kerns has gained notoriety for advancing some especially nutty positions. Visit his website, mentioned below, and see if you agree.

Third, as Phillips the professional scientist notes, Kerns, because of his degree in animal medicine, has annointed himself, and has been given the title by the Republican Party, as the unofficial go-to guy when it comes to interpreting the validity of science.

Parroting U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Kerns has committed into writing his belief that global warming is a hoax and that the science supporting it is a sham. Kerns resides in a Montana community where, on a calm day, it is impossible to escape the foul-smelling air caused by a local oil refinery, which, according to the watchdog group, Environmental Defense, had one of the worst environmental compliance records of refineries in the U.S. [as in the lowest 20 percent of refineries meeting federal standards during the 1990s) and still does not meet federal clean air standards for sulfur dioxide emissions.

At the top of Kerns’ personal website, he offers this announcement: RAMBLINGS OF A CONSERVATIVE COW DOCTOR….CAUTION! Some of you readers with liberal leanings may find my opinions sting a little. That is okay. Liberalism is a disease you can beat. Trust me, Im a doctor!

And what does the good doctor turned legislator say?

Carbon dioxide emission as a cause of global climate warming is the biggest hoax of the last 30 years, Kerns claims. Frighteningly, man caused global warming is being taught as a religion, and the ministers who promote it are particularly aggressive…. In the process of turning coal into electricity, the coal is burned and the carbon molecules are released into the air. The believers radically proclaim this release is causing global warming.

I would hazard to quess that most NewWest.Net readers have, by now, come to their own conclusions on the cause of global warming because theyve read what scientific experts, who have subjected their analysis to rigorous peer review, say on the matter. With few exceptions, no serious scientist argues that the burning of coal isnt a major source for carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

Yet here is Krayton Kerns, who has been given the nickname by some as Dr. Science and who claims to be an authority on global warming for his party, saying it doesnt exist. Even the Bush Administration doesnt believe that.

Phillips doesnt know what the best solution is for bringing science into the legislative chamber if colleagues, who sit in the majority and control what can be discussed and what cannoteven colleagues with veterinary degreesare unwilling to have their own ideas tested and scrutinized using the best science available. It is parallel, in fact, to the way discussions about global warming were carefully controlled in Congress when Inhofe and his colleagues ran the committees.

Maybe you bring experts before the various committees and provide seminars on relevant topics about the salient features of an issue, he says. After that, before a legislator can cast a vote, they must pass a test, much like taking a drivers exam or earning citizenship. You could take the test as many times as you needed but until you passed you wouldnt get to vote. It would at least force elected officials to be more informed when contemplating the gravity of the decisions they are making.

He concedes there are going to be some legislators who take offense at his observation, but think about it, he asks? Is it unreasonable for citizens to expect that their elected officials possess at least an objective, non-partisan grasp of facts? Its a question both parties need to answer.

Phillips says he has learned something else: In order for good ideas to prevail, your voice has to have volume to carry over the noise and theres a lot of noise out there, he says. You can only achieve volume by working with other citizens and by taking the time to become personally informed. That requires hard work. I see people who have volume and those who dont when they testify and, as an elected representative, Ive learned that in order to truly advance the best interests of my own neighborhood, my town, my state, and my country, I can only be effective if I, too, have done my homework.

All citizens deserve to have a say, he notes, but not all say is equal or makes for forming the foundation of good laws.  Like many of us, I grew tired of having a view of the world from the cheap seats sitting in my living room, watching the TV, reading the local newspaper, and arming myself with just enough information to be dangerous, he notes. That isnt good enough. It prompted me to want to do more.

Legislators can only be held accountable to speak the facts and make good laws, he says, if their constituents are willing to consider what the facts are first. Facts, he said, arent partisan but the people who make sport of distorting them are.

EDITORS NOTE: Bozeman writer Todd Wilkinson is currently writing a book about the environmental work of Ted Turner.


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