GUEST POST: Montana is selling out its wildlife

By Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana Director, Western Watersheds Project


This year has proven deadly for many of Montana’s wildlife species. From outrageously regressive rules governing gray wolf management to opening numerous Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) to livestock operations free of charge, the priorities of Montana’s decision makers have been on full display. Wildlife are also being targeted directly through more lenient trapping rules and expanded elk shoulder seasons–a season outside of the five-week general firearm and archery season which typically focuses on antlerless elk on private land. The common thread in these decisions is that they are contrary to what the majority of the public wants, and that they prioritize the values and demands of the few (i.e., deep-pocketed industry groups) over sound ecosystem stewardship and wildlife management.

The August 20th Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting laid bare the biases of many of the newly appointed commissioners. Pat Tabor (an outfitter and founder of Swan Mountain Outfitters), Brian Cebull (board member of the Montana Chapter of Safari Club International), and Lesley Robinson (a former running mate of Gianforte, a Phillips County Rancher, and Second Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association) dispelled any hope that they could put personal biases aside to appropriately manage Montana’s wildlife.

Commissioners ignored the majority of public comment that opposed some of the more extreme methods of wolf killing that passed in the spring’s legislative session. Instead, a 3-2 vote solidified the most regressive and hate-driven wolf management Montana has seen in recent memory. The commission voted to allow baiting and snaring as well as night hunting on private lands, institute a 10-wolf ‘limit’ for hunting and trapping, and remove quotas from the Wolf Management Units around Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

Additionally, the commission set no upper limit for how many wolves would be slaughtered, only a requirement that the commission meet again and consider adjustments once 450 wolves have been killed. Anywhere from 38 percent to 56 percent of Montana’s wolf population will be killed before there is even another conversation.

The rationale behind this level of state-sanctioned wolf slaughter remains utterly false. Commissioners continue to claim that wolves are decimating elk populations while simultaneously voting to extend elk-hunting shoulder seasons and expand shoulder season access onto public lands to deal with an abundance of elk. And according to the Livestock Loss Board, Montana producers have lost (and been reimbursed for) a mere 42 cattle and sheep to wolves this year, out of the approximately 2.5 million cows and sheep in the state. The bloodthirsty reality behind the decision making became clear when Commissioner Tabor stated that these ruthless measures are necessary to kill more wolves because wolves are hard to kill.

This marks a dark turn in wildlife management for a state that has historically been celebrated for its science-based, fair-chase hunting principles. It also makes it clear that Commissioners Tabor, Cebull, and Robinson care more about pleasing and lining the pockets of the livestock industry and trophy hunting groups than what the majority of Montanans want.

In another nod to the livestock industry, three days later, on August 23rd, Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) announced it would move forward with opening fourteen Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) to haying and grazing, despite 57 percent of public comments being in opposition.

This decision puts wildlife and wildlife habitat at risk as livestock operations have negative impacts on vegetation in a year with ‘normal’ amounts of moisture. In a year during which 98.7 percent of the state is experiencing severe to exceptional drought, chances are that any removal of already limited amounts of forage will be detrimental to wildlife that rely on these undisturbed areas for habitat.

Claiming only a temporary impact, FWP will allow grazing and haying operations on 8,500 acres of state WMAs, placing additional and avoidable stressors on wildlife. In what is becoming a common theme for FWP and the Fish and Wildlife Commission – hypocrisy – FWP approved this proposal while simultaneously putting out a press release on August 3 describing how “dry, hot conditions call for special consideration when living with wildlife.”

Amidst all of these conflicting directives, only two things are clear: Decision makers do not care what the public wants, and ecosystems and wildlife will take a back seat to the private profit of a few small industries in our state.


Jocelyn Leroux is the Washington-Montana Director with Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife and watersheds throughout the American West.



  1. Kate Avatar

    Time to take to the streets and make our Voices heard. Organize and protest is the mantra of our times now with all the egregious actions underway in so many dimensions.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Thank you.

    What’s especially dismaying is that the current Interior Department finds all of this acceptable as well. I’m not sure what to make of this pendulum swing, that will reverse all of the progress that has been made over the decades. 🙁

  3. Laurie Avatar

    Thank you for this post. I am utterly disgusted that We, the American People, are not finding a way to kick out the rancher/trophy hunter-dominated appointees on these government commissions and bring in science-based, ethical and honest people, instead.
    Biden and Haaland are utterly terrible disappointments.
    Ranchers/Trophy Hunters have had their way with the various government agencies for far, far too long!

  4. KC York Avatar

    Thank you for helping amplify what recently passed by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission and despite the overwhelming opposition and unfounded excuses to kill more wolves. Given the addition of snares for wolves and the longer wolf trapping season, far more animals will be injured and killed including protected species such as moose, as well as grizzlies. Lastly, the reduced wolf quotas we managed to finally get approved outside Denali and Yellowstone National Park have now been removed. Experience tells us, the wolf hater revenge seekers, will target these wolves and destroy them as a badge of honor. Aside from the years of scientific data that will be lost, these wolves, particularly Yellowstone, are an economic gold mine for businesses and to the state. They are known and treasured by the millions, too, who stand no financial gain but instead covet the intrinsic gift of being able to see and watch wolves in nature. “Ten years after the wolves were brought back, the University of Montana conducted a Regional Economic Impact Analyses and estimated that more than $35.5 million (confidence interval of $22.4 to $48.6 million) are generated via wolf-centered ecotourism in the park’s surrounding gateway communities.” Tourism is Montana’s second and fastest growing industry. Today, it may actually be number one. It is evident the majority now in charge in Montana do not care about ethics, science, or the monetary repercussions this war declared on wolves will cause to the state. Under their watch, wildlife is destined to be held and commercialized for the rich and elite. Farewell to the public trust.

  5. Monika s Avatar
    Monika s

    Well I think wildlife deserves better and humans are the problem. We should not be sporting wildlife and the government in my opinion should set boundaries and not look the other way I will fight for wildlife thank you

  6. Susan Barmeyer Avatar
    Susan Barmeyer

    I wish that these posts included recommendations of actions that concerned Montanans could take, such as “write these people with this message…”
    I was born and raised in Montana and would very much appreciate being able to help, but I don’t know how. Are there petitions that could circulate? other ways I could help?

    1. KC York Avatar
      KC York

      Thanks for caring, Susan, and for asking. Please note, petitions are highly ineffective and commonly are regarded as just one rather than the thousands of names attached. It is far better to write or call in person i.e. your elected officials, the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Letters to the editors are important in spreading the word. Attending applicable meetings, hearings and speaking up. FWP new director and staff are visiting regional offices around the state. He says he wants to hear from people. Sadly, many do not know what is going on in Idaho and about to seriously worsen for wolves and other innocent animals in Montana. By all means email us at Trap Free Montana Public Lands: for other ways to help.

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    IMHO, we really, really need the help of the Federal government. Trying to change the state governments in these states is a losing proposition – these attitudes haven’t changed for decades, even centuries.

    You can see after delisting just how quickly people have descended upon these poor animals to kill them. Not much has changed. I’m worried we’re going to go right back to pre-1970s numbers or worse.

    It’s been a huge disappointment for this administration to continue to tout ‘recovery’ and turn their backs on all the over-the-top killings.

    1. MAD Avatar

      I second the idea that fighting things at a local and state level, while valiant, is ultimately an exercise in futility. i think federal lawsuits is the only way to go.

      I currently work as a Criminal Investigator for the state of Montana, for the public defenders office. But I have had occasion to interact with state investigators with FWP. I am saddened and dismayed at the level of deference to ranchers, hunters and trappers and the outright misconduct by those who are charged with watchguarding the public interest, especially wildlife.

      This is a state that truly exists 50 years in the past in their social attitudes and policies. Most people buy into the mythical frontier West bulls**t and pride themselves when saying, “I’m a fourth (or 5th) generation Montanan.” Really? The Native American people have been here for 10,000 years and your family has been here how long, 150?

      I’m just glad there are people and organizations in the West that push back against the Ag-Ranching interests, like Western Watersheds Project.

      As a side note, I am currently working with a gent who took his tribal hunting claim to the US Supreme Court and won against the state of Wyoming (Clayvin Herrera – from the Crow tribe). I honestly believe that after he won at the Supreme Court the local Billings Police targeted him in a retaliatory way.

  8. Norman Bishop Avatar

    Nathan Varley, Rick McIntyre, and James Halpenny. 2020. The Wolf Watchers. Chapter 18, Pp. 260-261, in Smith, D.W., D.R. Stahler, and D.R. MacNulty. 2020. Yellowstone Wolves: Science and Discovery in the World’s first National Park. University of Chicago Press, wrote, “ In 1995, the first year wolves were transplanted to the park, 130 tour companies operated in the park with commercial use authorizations (CUAs). By 2019, over 300 CuAs had been issued…. The rise in Yellowstone’s wildlife-watching industry follows a general trend nationally, which saw a 28% increase din wildlife-watching activities since 201. By 2016, 86 million people were watching wildlife, and their associated expenditures totaled over $70 billion (USFS 2017).

    The annual economic impact of wolf restoration was estimated in 2005 at $35.5 billion (Duffield et al 2006). Visitation to Yellowstone during 2005 was 2,835,651, but by 2017, park visits had risen 145% to 4,116,525. An estimate of the annual economic impact, adjusted for 23% inflation over this period, is $65.5 million annually. Furthermore, wolf watchers help spread these economic benefits over time, as they visit outside the peak summer season and stay longer than most Yellowstone visitors.”

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Seems to me someone should wake up & realize the BENEFITS to their state that wildlife creates! But I guess their heads are all buried – where I will leave up to imagination!

  9. Norman Bishop Avatar

    I’m trying to join, but get a note that I have not jumped thorough a necessary hoop. Please contact me with a means of joining at, or(406) 582-0597


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