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HELENA — A proposed checkoff program would allow hunters purchasing licenses to voluntarily donate for lethal control of wolves.

Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston, brought House Bill 367 before the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee Tuesday. The bill creates a voluntary checkoff where hunters can donate $1 or more to “help reduce the impact of wolves on landowners and livestock producers.”

Beard brought the bill at the request of her constituents, she told the committee.

The bill requires Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to use the funding to contract with USDA Wildlife Services, “including but not limited to flight time, collaring, and lethal control of wolves.”

FWP currently spends about $800,000 annually on collaring and lethal control programs.

Similar checkoffs are available for programs such as non-game animals and Hunters Against Hunger.

Avon-area rancher Brian Quigley with the Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers Association detailed some of the additional expenses faced by livestock producers, such as paying fees per animal for predator control.

“We were asked how else hunters could help and this is what we came up with,” he said of the proposed checkoff.

Ranchers will continue to bear the brunt of predator costs, particularly with the recent loss of a federal grant that financed a portion of predator programs, Jim Brown with the Montana Woolgrowers Association said.

Jay Bodner with the Montana Stockgrowers Association also voiced support.

“In our mind, it’s money very well spent and another opportunity for hunters who want to contribute to this,” he said.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks opposed the bill for technical reasons that it felt could be addressed through amendments. Wildlife division administrator Ken MacDonald said the department does not oppose the concept of the bill.

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Marc Cooke with Wolves of the Rockies did oppose the concept of HB367. He argued that the bill excludes nonlethal measures that have proven effective and that wolf populations are stable.

“To say wolves aren’t being killed and we need to kill more, I just don’t buy it,” he said.

Also opposing was Ben Lamb with the National Wildlife Federation, agreeing that funding should be available for lethal and nonlethal wolf management. Voluntary checkoffs also do not tend to work well in most cases, pointing to a similar program in Wyoming that runs at a deficit.

Beard closed on the bill noting the importance of agriculture in Montana’s economy and touting the bill as a voluntary step to assist livestock producers requesting assistance. She indicated that she may be open to FWP suggested amendments but would need additional fact checking before deciding.

The committee took no immediate action on HB367.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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