By MARGA LINCOLN Independent Record
About 30 protesters gathered in drizzling rain on the Capitol lawn Friday, calling on Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to end wolf hunting in Montana and advocating for an economic boycott of tourism here and in Idaho and Wyoming.
The Howl Across America, organized by the international animal advocacy organization Friends of Animals, drew protesters from Montana, the East Coast and the Pacific Northwest.
“Our message is simple, governor,” said Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends of Animals, “you have perpetrated a fraud along with Sen. Jon Tester and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks by throwing the fate of wolves to the hunters and cattle ranchers of Montana in an act of shocking corruption. We’re demanding that gray wolves be put back on the Endangered Species List where they belong.”
The Congressional budget rider by Tester delisting wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act should not have happened, she said.
“We’re showing up … to confront Gov. Schweitzer on the state’s hellish wolf slaughter which has meant that more than 50 wolves have died in Montana and Idaho,” said Dustin Rhodes, a Friends of Animals official from Washington, D.C.
Schweitzer did not appear at the rally and declined, through a spokeswoman, to comment.
In 2009, 97 cattle were lost to wolves out of 2.6 million in Montana, Rhodes said, which is just a tiny fraction of the state’s cattle.
Rhodes accused Tester of “throwing wolves under the political bus,” saying his actions had undermined the purpose and integrity of the Endangered Species Act.
Livestock Loss Board Administrator George Edwards, in a phone interview, said that although the animal group’s statistics on livestock killed by wolves sounded reasonably accurate, it doesn’t represent a true picture of the situation ranchers are facing in some areas.
“If you take it down to regions where there are wolves on the landscape, it changes drastically,” he said. “It’s really hard to get a true number. Certain ranchers are hit over and over again.
“In 2009, we paid for 370 animals, an equivalent of one per day,” Edwards said, referring to all types of domestic livestock that were confirmed wolf kills. The count so far this year is 76.
According to FWP statistics, the total confirmed wolf kills last year, including sheep and cattle, was 151.
Ron Aasheim, chief of communications and education for Montana FWP, defended the wolf hunt now in progress. The agency, he noted, set a kill quota of 220 wolves, basing its number on Montana’s Wolf Management Plan that was scientifically peer-reviewed and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004.
Montana currently has at least of 586 wolves, said Aasheim. The agency predicts a minimum of 425 wolves will be left after the hunting quota is met later this fall.