By PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic
HAMILTON – A proposed county wildlife recovery plan that calls for unlimited wolf and mountain lion hunting and allowing the use of dogs and bait for bears is creating a stir among some in Ravalli County.
Commissioners in Ravalli County say the document is nothing more than public comment drawn up by a few private individuals.
Copies of the document called “The Wildlife Recovery Plan of 2011,” which reads like a county resolution, have been circulating around the county since last week.
Under terms of the “plan,” the county would implement its own hunting regulations for bears, mountain lions and wolves in hunting districts where elk hunting has been restricted due to declining numbers.
The document will be included in an update Tuesday at 1 p.m. on the wolf fact-gathering process the commission began in June.
Ravalli County Commission Chair J.R. Iman said it will be the first time the commission has a chance to formally review the information.
Iman was adamant that the county has no plans to develop its own wildlife management plan.
“The county commission has absolutely no authority to make wildlife plans separate from other state or federal agencies,” Iman said.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher said the proposal was developed by a group of people, including an outfitter and a member of the organization Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
Kanenwisher said that while he agrees no one in the county can manage wildlife, he wants the commission to develop some sort of position paper or resolution that offers specific ideas on addressing issues relating to predators.
“This is not simply about rallying the troops … we need to suggest solutions as well,” he said.
The proposed wildlife plan will be considered as public comment, Kanenwisher said.
Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association President Tony Jones hopes that’s as far as the county takes it.
“Should they pass something like this, it would pit federal and state government against county government,” Jones said. “My guess is that it wouldn’t turn out very well for the county.”
If the county wants to get involved in wildlife management, Jones said it should do so through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks public license-setting process.
“This is the first time that I’ve seen a county commission weigh in on any kind of wildlife season,” he said. “If they are that concerned about it, where have they been up to now?”
“Everyone is wondering how this will shake out,” Jones said. “And if it’s going to end up in state and federal lawsuits.”
Iman said the commission understands that people are frustrated about the wolf issue and its impact on elk and deer hunting.
“We’re identifying the problems,” he said. “We need to address through legal channels, not emotional channels.”
The proposed county wildlife management plan asks for solutions that are outside of state law, including using bait to hunt bears, Iman said.
That’s illegal in Montana, but allowed in Idaho.
“It’s nice to look across the fence and see what other people have done inside their legal process, but we can’t do that within our legal process,” Iman said.
Iman said people need a bit of patience as the process continues to work.
“Everyone wants a yesterday answer to a three- to four-year-long problem,” he said. “(Judge) Molloy shut us down for 2 1/2 years. The male wolf didn’t tell the female wolf about that. There’s no way to get back to even in the first 12 months after this was over.”