Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Guest opinion: Out-of-staters trying to change Montana Constitution DON THOMAS 2 hrs ago

Great Op-Ed in today's Billings Gazette.

Guest opinion: Out-of-staters trying to change Montana Constitution
DON THOMAS 2 hrs ago
Elk hunters
Buy Now
BRETT FRENCH, Gazette Staff
The right to hunt is already guaranteed in the Montana Constitution.
Had they started their campaign with a classified ad, it might have read like this:

“Shady political group, well-financed with unique combination of dark money and taxpayer dollars, seeks to purchase Western state wildlife resources at bargain basement prices. Operating methods designed to insure lack of transparency. Extensive references from energy industry players available upon request. Contact: Big Game Forever, Bountiful, Utah.”

What’s not to love about a group with a name like that, which evokes legitimate wildlife advocacy groups with a proven record of integrity? Same goes for their parent organization, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. Who can’t be for fish and wildlife? Too bad things aren’t always as they seem.

Alaska scheme
I first me these groups when I lived in Alaska, where Corey Rossi, a founder of SFW’s Alaska chapter, became director of the state’s Wildlife Division despite a total lack of professional qualification. In 2008, he was dismissed because of multiple game law violations. Before he got the boot, he had drafted legislation that would start privatizing Alaska wildlife for commercial profit. Alaskans knew nothing of this scheme until someone with a conscience leaked an internal memo to the press.

Shrill railing against predators, especially wolves, brought both groups attention and money, which is why they actually opposed de-listing wolves. Unfortunately, they falsely claimed that several hunting organizations agreed with them, which led the NRA (hardly a bastion of fuzzy liberalism) to issue this strongly worded response: “Due to the blatant misinformation contained in the press release circulated by these two groups (SFW and BGF), any claims they make in the future should be thoroughly investigated and independently confirmed.” No kidding.

Utah game tag auction
Meanwhile, they were busy developing more ways to make money. These schemes included conning the Utah legislature into providing them with special big game tags to auction and millions of taxpayer dollars to lobby against a federal plan to re-introduce wolves to Utah, even though there was never any evidence such a plan existed. A formal audit of these programs in 2013 couldn’t determine where the money went.

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This year, BGF showed up in Montana to support Senate Bill 236, which called for a constitutional amendment to safeguard Montanans’ existing right to hunt, fish, and trap. The bill was controversial and at least superficially attractive. However, almost all Montana wildlife and sporting groups have opposed it, because the change is unnecessary (our Constitution already establishes these rights) and would hinder the function of the Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks while leading to needless expensive litigation. Furthermore, the new wording could be subject to interpretation promoting the commercialization of Montana wildlife.

Why is BGF bringing its miserable record of deception and financial irresponsibility to Montana in support of a solution looking for a problem? Good question. The answer likely lies at the end of the last paragraph. If Utah citizens want to let these groups rob them of their money and their wildlife, that’s their business.

Montanans should never let it happen here.

Don Thomas lives in Lewistown.

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