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Wolf Fight Draws Howls in Montana

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“Jon’s opponent couldn’t even get his bill included in H.R. 1, so there’s no chance it would pass Congress. Montanans don’t want politics to keep dragging this down,” Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said. “They just want a real solution that removes wolves from the endangered species list and returns their management to our state — and that’s exactly what this provision does. Jon’s known for finding bipartisan solutions and getting them passed. His opponent is known for doing whatever his party bosses tell him to do, even when it’s wrong for Montana.”

Rehberg has been aggressively courting the support of various state and national interest groups, some of which have substantial political clout. The list of those backing the Congressman’s bill includes the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the National Trappers Association and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, among others.

“The overall conclusion is that we support delisting the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act,” Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation spokesman Lance Lemmonds said. “Any legislation that gets us going in that direction we support.”

That means, of course, that the foundation actually supports Rehberg’s bill in addition to the Tester provision.

Many groups, however, favor only one or the other. That’s the case with the Montana Wildlife Federation.

The organization’s 7,500 members are primarily hunters and anglers. And they prefer the Tester approach.

“The Tester and Simpson effort is more in line with our biological philosophy,” Aldrich said, noting that the provision would continue to allow federal wildlife officials to have a role in protecting the animals. The Tester approach, he noted, is also more politically viable, as evidenced by its inclusion last week in both the House Republican and Senate Democratic spending bills.

Aldrich reports that the gray wolf population has largely recovered in recent years.

Wolf packs were eliminated from Montana by the 1930s, according to state data. But backed by a recovery plan instituted in the 1980s, they began to trickle in from Canada in the 1990s. By the end of 1994, there were roughly 48 wolves living in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park.

At the beginning of 2010, the most recent data available, state officials reported 524 wolves were living in Montana, including 37 breeding pairs.

The growth has produced problems for hunters and farmers, according to Aldrich.

Hundreds of cattle, sheep, horses and other livestock have been killed by wolves in recent years. And the effect on the elk population, a favorite target of local hunters, is believed to be severe as well, although the state has trouble tallying the number of confirmed kills.

The struggle over both spending bills, which stalled in the Senate last week, suggests that the issue won’t be resolved soon.

“We’re a year and a half away from an election, from where Tester and Rehberg will be looking for the same job,” Aldrich said. “I hesitate to say it’s a top issue, but I certainly think it could be. The longer we wait, the more difficult it could get to separate it from political discussion.”

It’s already part of the political discussion for some.

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