Michael Tucker, Editor
The Gallatin County Commission is considering drafting a resolution to address the effects of predators on agriculture and hunting.
Commissioners took the first step Monday and agreed to place a draft resolution on their public meeting next week.
As written, the draft document calls for gathering data and research to determine the impacts of large predators for the purposes of developing a countywide policy.
Commissioner Joe Skinner is spearheading the effort.
“We’re looking for responses from citizens and agencies to give information on the impact of wolves to Gallatin County and the heritage of hunting,” he said.
Similar efforts are taking place in Madison and Ravalli counties. Skinner said he used the Ravalli county resolution as a template where commissioners are looking into economic effects on wolf depredation to elk herds.
Skinner said he has been quietly meeting with hunters, outfitters and others to come up with a plan that works in Gallatin County.
He said wolves aren’t the sole focus of the measure.“It’s not just wolves,” he said. “It’s other large predators and how elk are being managed in general. I’m not on a witch hunt for wolves yet.”
According to the draft resolution, county residents have approached the commission about “worsening conditions as a result of the U.S. Government placement of wolves in Gallatin County and the effects of large predators in general.”
The draft resolution also states “a de facto State of Emergency may exist as evidenced by alarming ungulate population numbers and cow-calf ratios…”
Under state law, the commission has the authority to coordinate with state and federal agencies in decisions about large predators and large game species.
Commissioners Steve White and Bill Murdock said they are in support of the move.
“There are some people that would like to eliminate wolves all together and I’m not going there,” Murdock said.
If approved, Skinner said the county will work with federal and state agencies along with businesses, outfitters and sportsman groups to come up with the necessary data.
From there, the next step would be to draft a county policy to address the concerns and findings from the intial study, Skinner said. A September deadline is the tentative due date for the final policy.
The issue will likely be discussed during the Sept. 20 public meeting at the County courthouse in Bozeman.
A recent Associated Press story is cited in the draft resolution as one of the key components for the effort.
In that story, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reported wolf numbers risen by 15 percent in 2011 despite hunting efforts. The state wolf plan calls for a minimum of 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves.
Other counties are considering offering a bounty on wolves where cattle producers would be taxed to pay for the move.
Skinner said his main focus is on hunting and the economy.
“We all have a perception that the wolves have really decreased the huntable elk population,” he said.