We have an agency charged with “managing wildlife” in Montana. It works off the tired North America Model of Wildlife Conservation, one that is outdated and lacking in current scientific understanding. Rather than managing people, the agency obsesses with controlling wildlife. Their true mission is not management, but to follow the orders of the livestock industry that controls not only the state legislature but most wildlife agencies across the West.
But what if we could reimagine a new and different Fish, Wildlife and Parks? If you could start over with the wisdom of our experience, with the science unbiased and relevant and with the input of not just sportsmen and the livestock industry, but the voices of all of us that love and wonder at wildlife.
It would start with the concept of managing people not wildlife. By this I mean, rather than shoulder seasons and destructive predator management and killing, we would demand, not ask, the livestock industry to co-exist with all wildlife. Thus we would be managing their actions, not those of the coyote or wolf. The agency would work to make landscapes and waterways protected while working with property owners to enhance habitat for all species.
The agency would demand the ending of trapping on all state and public lands. There could be no justifiable rationale to allow this torture of wildlife to continue and the penalties would be severe for any that decide to ignore the regulations, once again managing people, not wildlife. They would also be voices that speak for wildlife, not conduits for destructive practices and cultural prejudices that focus hate on predator species.
No one would end the right for sportsmen to hunt and they would remain part of any commission. Ending trapping will not end hunting and a healthy commission and department would make hunters understand this and enhance their long and important alliance with those other conservation groups that share supporting wildlife.
The agency would be governed by a commission that represents all people. This means appointing people that demand modern conservation principles, perhaps who make a living from wildlife viewing or understand this is the largest constituency for wildlife nationally. This commission would understand that predator species are vital to a healthy and thriving wildlife population. These predators are our first line of defense from species acquiring chronic wasting disease or dealing with the influx of feral pigs on our northern border.
Real science would matter. It would be the focus of the agency, but rather than controlling everything, we would use science to educate the public, to enhance habitat and waterways for wildlife, not just for the purpose of killing species. Being able to speak about family units and the suffering a species can and does feel, is not something to hide, but through education change societal thinking.
This agency, which has long been the public voice for the livestock industry, would morph into one that forces change in this Pleistocene operation. Cattle would not have the dominant voice on public lands and would face new restrictions. The killing of predators would end and the industry would either adapt or like any business be finished. No industry is given more government handouts than livestock and their continued power to control our public lands and wildlife denies all Americans their rightful ability to view wildlife on public lands.
Such changes would allow wildlife to thrive in our state. With more wildlife, tourism and spending to view wildlife would grow exponentially. Our personal experiences with wildlife would shift from momentary glances to real interactions. Our relationship with wolves and other predators would evolve and the land and waterways would be far healthier, not denizens of death. We would understand what it means to co-exist.
If we or anyone believes in the idea of legacy, then our legacy should be about changing this agency that was born not to help wildlife, but to enhance opportunities for sportsmen. Demanding it evolve into an agency that makes wildlife the priority. That ends the horrid practice of trapping and reflects the diversity, not just of species, but of people that understand that wildlife is what makes life on this planet so very special.
If I could dream of a new agency these are but a few of the things I would start with. As for the one we have, it is our mission and your voice that will force the changes necessary for progress and to ensure the life of species that deserve simply a chance to survive.
Wildlife does not need management, but people do. Be a voice for change!