We shouldn’t manage Montana’s wildlife like a giant game farm

Marty Essen asks for balanced management of our forests and wildlife-

We shouldn’t manage Montana’s wildlife like a giant game farm

In response to some recent anti-wolf letters in local newspapers, I’d like to offer an alternative point of view.

Blaming the wolf for fewer elk, without considering other factors, is disingenuous at best. Here’s what scientists know as fact: wolves and elk have a history together that goes back to before humans entered their territory. If wolves were going to wipe out the elk, they would’ve done so long before humans arrived. In a natural ecosystem, wolves and elk exist to the mutual benefit of both species.

The real issue is whether it’s morally acceptable for humans to artificially manage our forests for the benefit of one special interest group: hunters. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 129,708 resident elk licenses were sold in 2008, and there are an estimated 193,484 total hunters in our state. Considering that Montana’s population is 967,440, hunters are a much smaller group than their political influence indicates (and not all hunters are anti-wolf).

On the other hand, many people, including conservation-minded hunters, won’t speak out in defense of wolves because they fear being threatened (I’ve been threatened more than once). That doesn’t mean their concerns should be ignored. Countless people head into the woods each day, hoping to spot a wolf. Yes, the reintroduction of wolves isn’t just for the animals—it’s for people too!

One anti-wolf writer suggested that we have a public vote on the “wolf problem.” In essence, we already had that vote when we banned game farms. If we manage Montana’s wildlife solely to favor human-hunted species, all we’re doing is turning our state into one giant game farm.

The best way to manage Montana’s wildlife is to strive for a natural balance. It’s good for animals; it’s good for non-hunters; and it’s good for hunters who believe in a fair chase.

Copyright ©

Marty Essen
Author of the multi-award-winning book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents



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  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Right on! You could substitute Idaho in each place Montana is mentioned and this article would apply equally well here also.

  2. Ron Kearns Avatar
    Ron Kearns

    Game farm management occurs in Arizona and throughout the west by State *Game* and Fish Departments while the U.S. Fish and *Wildlife* Service becomes increasingly complicit in *game* farming v. *wildlife* management.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yes. You’re right about that, Ron. The irony is that game farming has the effect of putting these agencies out of business, especially if they don’t start getting funds from other than selling licenses and tags.

    This complicity indicates that those who control and perhaps run (manage) the agencies do not have the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation in mind.

    My personal political view is that this is a holdover of the Bush/Cheney conservative “let’s make everything private” ideology.

  4. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    The “Lets make everything private” Ideology has been around long before Bush/Cheney took office..

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Save Bears you are right too.

    The distinction between public and private was one of philosophical inventions of liberals, beginning in the 18th century.

    Those on the right — the monarchy and its successors and the collectivists on the left — have devalued or failed to see the value of this. I used Bush because he is still on our mind.

  6. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I think that the names for Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska (and probably plenty of other states out west) can be substituted in there. If you talk to a lot of hunters they do think they have this entitlement to the wildlife and they act like wolves killing anything are killing their cattle.

    The section on people being afraid to speak up about being pro-wolf is also very applicable. I am very nervous about mentioning it unless it is with people I know in the Midwest. Being anti-wolf is very fashionable in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and you are almost like a traitor if you do not agree with it. I say fashionable because there are people who are not hunters or ranchers that still piss and moan about it.

    I also liked that he acknowledged that wolves and elk coexisted before humans came along.

  7. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Part of the reason hunters think they have “this entitlement to the wildlife” is that they help pay for “wildlife management” and wildlife habitat via the Pittman-Roberston Fund, a self-imposed tax on guns and ammo. Is there a similar tax on hiking gear or wildlife watching gear?

  8. Layton Avatar

    “wolves and elk have a history together that goes back to before humans entered their territory. If wolves were going to wipe out the elk, they would’ve done so long before humans arrived.”

    Isn’t the key phrase here “before humans arrived”??

    “Natural balance”??

    Sure, all you have to do to achieve it is get rid of how many million people?? Then maybe this “utopia” where the wolves and the elk and the antelope all play in harmonious existence is possible.

    Otherwise I’ve got a flash for you — IT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN!!

  9. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Dave Smith hit the nail square on the head, until the wildlife watchers, self impose a tax on the goods they buy, your are going to continue to see this divide, start suggesting that you are willing to pay an extra tax on activities and goods, and you might have some hope in controlling what goes on…sorry if that don’t sit well, but it is real life…

  10. John d. Avatar
    John d.


    After humans arrived predators still have a system for controlling their own populations without human intervention. It is only due to the desire for more herbivorous species and less ‘junk’ animals such as wolves, coyotes and cougars that take from herds that leads to this ideal that predators are the problem and should be punished for performing a vital role which they have been performing, unwittingly, for the benefit of the ecosystem many years prior and post human occupation.

    Natural balance: ebb and flow of predators and prey without having to remain constant for one particular species to consider the ecosystem stable. If a herd of ungulates is not bought down by predation, the vegetation and other animals that rely on it suffer. This is often overlooked in preference to filling a quota which is anticipated to be high, if this quota is not high – there is a perceived problem – which is then blamed on predators.

  11. Maska Avatar

    Hey, I’m fine with such a tax. I’d also be in favor of adding some general revenue funding to the budgets of state game and fish agencies. The problem (at least in my state) is that we have no initiative process, and the legislature has been anything but receptive to alternative funding sources in the past.

    Also, I have a question. As a member of a family with two gun owners who keep the weapons for self-protection and shooting at targets, but who don’t hunt, does the Pittman-Robertson tax apply to non-hunting weapons and ammo, or only to those used for hunting? I must admit to ignorance on this point. If there is a distinction, on what criteria is it made?

  12. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I would be in favor of a tax on the items you mentioned. Those of us that used to hunt and now mostly watch should help pay for managing wildlife. Wildlife watchers outnumber hunters by about 3 to 1. The money from such a tax would be very useful and also give the people paying the tax some say in how wildlife is managed.
    Money talks. The outfitters and guides associations have learned how to get grants from their state departments of commerce and they make sure that some of it finds its way back to their favorite politicians. The woolgrowers make sure that some of the wool and meat subsidy money they receive finds its way to their favorite politicians.
    The cattlemen do the same with some of the money they save by grazing on public lands. FNAWS and other hunting groups make sure that their favorite politicians get funded. It is time that wildlife watchers wake up and start doing the same.

  13. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Pit-Robertson applies to all firearms and ammo sold in this country, it also extend sto archery equipment, arrows, arrow heads, and many other things…

  14. JB Avatar

    There’s also a “sister” bill, the Dingell-Johnson Act on the fisheries side. So those that don’t hunt but fish still pay for habitat restoration and management (via a similar excise tax) that benefits fish and many wildlife. It’s never as simple as people want to make it out to be.

  15. Brian Ertz Avatar

    we all pay for public land management. we all pay for species restoration. we all pay for weed eradication, predator eradication, road maintenance, bird eradication, prescribed fire, habitat restoration of federal public lands, etc. we all collectively own the land & habitat.

    how much say do we have now already paying for/contributing all of these things ?

    Another ex: Bighorn sheep bring big bucks to the department – but who won the day in the legislature & with the IDFG commission even as all the economic contribution for the budget came from those interested in bighorn/wildlife ? How much $$ do the sheepman contribute to IDFG ?

    Wildlife is a public trust – it should be managed in everyone’s interest from the start. Ceding the idea that an interest must pay for a voice at the table undermines the public trust responsibility that is already codified as law – it legitimizes the corruption – that solution will not end well. Instead, our public trust is managed to benefit a marginal group’s interest that doesn’t pay its fair share anyway ?

    why would wildlife advocates believe if we ponied up they’d do anything but co-opt it for the people pulling the strings anyway ? you’d just be handing a big budget to the corrupt people who don’t give a damn about your interest – the problem is political, it ain’t a lack of the general public’s contribution – (again, we own the land that feeds & hosts the wildlife, we “own” the wildlife, we collectively own & have right over management of it all right now) it just looks that way cuz that’s how they arrange the bureaucracy – for “take”, people pay for “take” – we shouldn’t have to pay for them to take care of what we already own when we do not “take” what is already ours.

    better to give your dime to a group of your choice that you know gives a damn and is doing something to change this arrangement – this political corruption that has fooled us into believing that they own any of it more than we do.

  16. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Figured you would say something like that Brian..of course the hunters of the country have been ponying up since 1936, just the way it is..which is why we find ourselves in the position we are in now..

  17. mikarooni Avatar

    Oh, I forgot! Shove it, Save Bears!

  18. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    JB, hit it as well, the fisher persons have been contributing for many years as well..but it seems as if …(nope won’t go there)

  19. mikarooni Avatar

    I’m afraid the I have extensive personal experience with this deceitful argument over who pays to support wildlife and who gets to call the shots (pun intended). I spent several years working with a Democrat state administration to pass legislation that took significant seed money from the general fund (general state tax funds paid by all state residents) to go the the game and fish department as a “conservation pool” to pay for habitat and non-game wildlife.

    The public supported it from the first and the only reason it so long to pass was the opposition of the GOP in the state legislature. We finally got enough public outcry to pass it and, for two years, it was widely supported and it generated the funding for maintenance and upkeep on state lands, habitat protection and rehabilitation, and all kinds of sensitive species support work.

    The GOP weaseled themselves back into control of the administration, waited until near the end of the term, and, despite all kinds of public support and despite the fact that the governor had indicated his support for it throughout that last legislative session of his term, he cut it out of the appropriations bill at the last minute, too late for us to mount a response because the session had already ended.

    This bull about “the rest of us” needing to pony up is just as dishonest as it gets. They don’t want us in the game; they don’t want us at the table. Even when we do fight our way through to pony up, they us whatever bull tactic they can to unseat us. In fact, this debate is such crap that you can actually, once again, trace the false flags being flown by the posters by how quickly they bring this bogus crap back up. It happens all the time and it’s just hypocritical bull.

  20. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    With the administrations we have all got stuck with for the last few decades, we are going to have to continue to step up to the plate to get anything done, now a days, if you want it, your going to have to pay for it, even the New Administration has shown, he is going to follow the money..I know I am excited with the “Change” which is NO change at all..

  21. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    It’s true we all pay for the stuff Brian mentioned, but hunters pay more because of Pittman-Roberston. It’s not a perfect system, it doesn’t always lead to the best management of wildlife habitat and “wildlife,” but on top of the same taxes everyone else pays, hunters pay a self-imposed tax on guns and ammo.

  22. Maska Avatar

    Thanks for the information, Save bears. It’s interesting to learn that we already pay on the guns and ammunition we buy, even though the purpose isn’t for hunting.

  23. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Layton, I will agree with you that the ecosystems will never be the same now that humans arrive. I am not advocating a mass depopulation of the western United States. However, the natural balance still has the ability to exist. Sure, the wildlife will not be everywhere that it once was. We will obviously never have wolves roaming in Central Park like they did over 300 years ago. However, even in the smaller areas of suitable wolf habitat like in the Northern Rockies, the wolves will not decimate the elk herds. The reason I say this is the evidence is already there. Right now, Wyoming’s elk herds are all at or above population objectives. This is the first year I have hunted in Wyoming since I just became a resident, but the quotas seem fairly generous. Minnesota has had all of its suitable wolf habitat filled. Yet people are still running over deer left and right and the quotas are still generous. I am not totally sure but I think that Wisconsin and Michigan are in the same boat. I acknowledge that I have not been to the wilderness areas of Idaho but I have to ask; why would Idaho be any different?

  24. mikarooni Avatar

    Ralph and Brian, these last postings above should make it obvious that what you’re seeing is a subtle form of organized spam-like denial of service attack and you ought to think about blocking it out.

  25. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Why do yous say this is spam mikarooni?

  26. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    ProWolf–If you don’t agree with mikarooni, it’s spam. When mikarooni doesn’t have an intelligent response to someone, he whines that their comments should be “blocked out.”

  27. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Thanks Dave! I wondered if that was the case.

  28. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    mikarooni wrote on June 22, 2009 at 9:59 PM

    “Ralph and Brian, these last postings above should make it obvious that what you’re seeing is a subtle form of organized spam-like denial of service attack and you ought to think about blocking it out.”

    I don’t see that they are doing what you suggest. RM

    However, I do tend to agree with your statement, “This bull about “the rest of us” needing to pony up is just as dishonest as it gets. They don’t want us in the game; they don’t want us at the table. Even when we do fight our way through to pony up, they us whatever bull tactic they can to unseat us.”

    The last thing many hunting only wildlife groups want is to have monies coming in from any source that would give more attention to non-game wildlife.

  29. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Hunters & fishers pay for “take” – not for exclusive political influence over public trust resources that belong to us all as a matter of law.

    I am not making a statement about hunters either way – rather, I’m suggesting that Livestock exersizes absolute influence over F&G departments without contributing a penny. I believe this debunks any rationale that suggests funds or budget are the strings – It’s not – it’s a political problem & non-consumptive users should not have to pay the crooks for a seat as the resource that they’re slinging already belongs to us all because we do not “take”. I hunt & fish – I pay for my “take” when I buy my license – I would never suggest that I pay for bigger voice at the table than anyone else.

  30. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    It’s all how you play the game. I loathe snowmobiling, but when I’m in Montana, every time I buy a gallon of gas for my truck so I can go to a trailhead and x-c ski away from the noise and stench of bubbleheads, part of the tax I pay on gas goes to the state to groom trails for snowmobiling.

    I’m real unhappy that my money pays to help snowmobilers, but they played the political system and won. It’s a crappy deal, but you’ve got to hand it to the bubbleheads for taking the initiative.

    Whine all you want about hunting interests controlling or having undue influence with state fish and game departments, but they decided to pony up the money decades ago. Smart move. Environmentalists have not found a way to buy into the game.

    Bad system, but that’s the way it is.

  31. Cobra Avatar

    It sure is nice to live in an area like North Idaho that has very little open range or ranchers. I wonder how things would be if hunters funds weren’t around helping wildlife for all of these years. There are also a lot of large tracts of private land that help wildlife. I know on my own property I try to keep as much fall and winter habitat as possible because it is in lower elevation and elk,deer and moose all winter there. In the fall the last few years it’s been a bear haven because of the amount of choke cherries. One patch looks like a cherry orchard there’so many. I have noticed in the last two years I have a lot more resident elk and deer that calve and fawn on my property. Just wondering if maybe having more wolves the last three years around the area might be keeping some of the other game at the lower elevations, any ideas?

  32. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    It’s good to learn how you manage your property.

    As for wolves, elevation is no concern to them. They will follow their prey up and down the mountains with the seasons.

  33. JB Avatar

    “…hunters pay a self-imposed tax on guns and ammo…”

    I may be accused of nitpicking (again), but I find this to be a curious statement. CONGRESS enacted Pittman-Robertson for the purpose of facilitating the restoration of wildlife. I don’t see how the excise tax established by PR is any different than any other tax. Should we start referring to all taxes as “self-imposed”?

    FYI: If you read the text of PR, you’ll find that wildlife-associated recreation “means projects intended to meet the demand for outdoor activities associated with wildlife including, but not limited to, hunting and fishing, wildlife observation and photography, such projects as construction or restoration of wildlife viewing areas, observation towers, blinds, platforms, land and water trails, water access, field trialing, trail heads, and access for such projects.”

    You’ll also find that restoration projects are not limited to “game” species. In my experience in the Midwest, PR funds are used mostly to do research. I can’t speak to their use in the West. Save Bears?

  34. outsider Avatar

    Brian, So are you saying that if livestock owners pulled their private property out of the picture, wildlife populations wouldn’t be effected in a negative way?

  35. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Mikirooni says:

    “Shove it Save Bears”

    Miki, I would think with your extensive knowledge about things, you could come up with something better than that!

  36. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Outsider–It would be a great trade-off to let ranchers nuke their private land if the public could get control of the public lands they lease and give cattle the boot.

  37. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Dave Smith,

    I sort of agree, but many states are not as blessed as Idaho with a high percentage of the state being land owned by the public.

  38. outsider Avatar

    Dave, so the past concerns about fenceing wildlife migration routs, acess to public lands, ect are no longer an issue here?

  39. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Outsider–in the West & Southwest, it’s fairly common for ranches to have something like 640 acres of “deeded” private land, and 6,400 acres of leased land from the feds or state. That 10/1 ratio is just a ballpark figure, a guesstimate, but it’s reasonable. Fencing the private land isn’t going to have much influence on wildlife migration routes, but tearing down all the !$#!*#! barb wire fence on the leased land will sure help. The public is generally locked out of private land on ranches already. Ranchers also do their best to keep the public off public lands the rancher leases from the public. On balance, I think the public would get access to a lot more land. If you got the damn cattle off the public’s land, there would be a lot, lot, lot more fish and wildlife.

  40. Ryan Avatar


    I haven’t seen alot of those, I have seen several 6-10 K places that land lock 4 or 5 K of BLM.. Those are very standard practice in oregon.

  41. mikepost Avatar

    In the west ranches were built by homesteading water sources like springs and then under the open range doctrine all the surrounding land could only effectively be used by those having control of the water. This kept prices for that land low and allowed eventual purchase of the surrounding land and the building of the large ranches we see today. Even on public lands today you will see private in-holdings that represent old homesteads that controlled water sources and in many cases still do. That made competition for public land grazing leases very low because only the water owner could mount a viable operation on those leases.

  42. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    When I pointed out that most of the users of public lands other than recreational users and wildlife watchers give money to get their political pals elected, I was just stating the obvious. If we want to influence decisions affecting public lands, we have to elect politicians who agree with or at least listen to us. If you go to any of the annual banquets of hunting groups like FNAWS, or to the cattlemens or woolgrowers state meetings, you will find the politicians there listening to them.
    They listen, because they get campaign money and support from those groups.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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