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For once, the signs didn't say it all.

Hoisted on the sidewalk outside the Russell Smith Courthouse on Tuesday morning, they said plenty, of course.

"Wolves are not Endangered"

"I Want to Hunt When I Get Big"

"Montana's #1 Poacher - Gray Wolf"

But once you stepped beyond the signs and the camo shirts, the crowd of about 100 told a more diverse story.

"It's very true that we aren't all coming from the same place here," said Casey Richardson, vice president of the Montana chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. "It's like most discussions. You have people out on the fringes and you have people closer to the middle. This group, where we come together is a concern about how wolves are managed in Montana. Where we differ is how that management ought to take place."

Richardson and members of his organization understand that wolves are part of the Montana landscape for good.

"We get that, and we're in support of that," he said. "What we want is some balance, so that our populations of elk and deer remain stable. We don't want to see those herds decimated just so wolves can prosper, because in the end, that's bad for wolves as well."

***

But not far from where Richardson talked with a reporter stood Toby Bridges, who runs a website called Lobo Watch, which is decidedly anti-wolf.

"I agree that we are going to have some wolves, but I can tell you that if we have more and more wolves, people are going to start doing something about them," said Bridges. "People are going to take things into their own hands and solve the problem."

Bridges recently posted to his blog some information about Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is poisonous to canines. Was he suggesting that people poison wolves?

"I'm not advocating it, Bridges said. "I'm just putting information out."

***

Tuesday's hearing in the Missoula courtroom of federal District Judge Donald Molloy drew a host of lawyers to argue the merits of relisting wolves under the Endangered Species Act. That possibility was a galvanizing prospect for protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside.

"We're in agreement out here that this is an area where the state of Montana should be managing its own wildlife," said state Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman. "The federal government has proven themselves an unworthy partner in management."

While nearly everyone on the sidewalk favored more aggressive wolf management and hunting, wolves did have a few advocates.

"This isn't about wolves and wildlife," said Jerry Black, a retired airline pilot. "This is a mobilization of hostility. You see all these kids with these anti-wolf signs. How do you think they're going to learn to really respect wildlife?"

While some hoisted their signs and made sharp comments when lawyers from environmental groups walked by - "I should yank that wolf tie right off that guy's neck," an Idaho man said - Richardson walked over and talked with Jerry Black.

"We're not going to get anywhere just yelling at one another," said Richardson, a Missoula police officer. "Neither one of us is going to change our minds, probably, but it's important to hear one another out so we can move ahead."

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at mmoore@missoulian.com.

 

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