Wildlife photographers' sign-on letter to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte
Re: Protect Montana’s wildlife heritage from extreme legislation

Dear Gov. Gianforte:

The ### undersigned wildlife photographers and videographers urge you to conserve Montana’s wildlife heritage for Montanans, wildlife photographers and videographers and the millions of visitors who make Montana’s economy viable. A slew of bills designed to significantly expand Montana's already liberal hunting and trapping seasons, undermine conservation and restoration of Montana’s majestic wolves, bears, bison and other wildlife will soon cross your desk. We urge you to veto each in turn, including HB 224 (wolf snaring), HB 225 (wolf-trapping-season expansion), SB 98 (loosens language around killing grizzly bears, contrary to federal law), SB 267 (wolf bounty), SB 314 (intends to reduce wolf population dangerously close to federally-determined minimums, allows unlimited wolf bag limit per hunter and night wolf hunting), SB 337 (undermines grizzly bear recovery in Montana) HB 468 (black bear hounding), and HB 302 (grants counties the authority to manage wild bison, our national mammal, but removes that authority from the state).

With this raft of legislation, Montana’s lawmakers are signaling to the federal government and courts that wolves will need to be relisted and Montana can never be trusted to conserve grizzly bears without federal oversight and that counties can pre-empt the state’s management authority over bison.

Furthermore, these proposals not only take a steep turn from years of more reasoned and ethical wildlife management in Montana, but, together, they move the state toward a trend of managing wildlife populations significantly downward—a path that resulted in listing of species under the Endangered Species Act in the first place due to harmful state management policies. This is happening despite new, overwhelming support for lands, wildlife and nature protections in Montana.

If these bills are signed into law, the consequences of such extreme legislation reach far beyond the targeted species. For instance, when trappers target wolves, they will invariably catch, injure, and possibly kill federally protected grizzly bears and Canada lynx, as well as mountain lions, elk, deer and family pets (including working dogs, bird dogs, and outdoor recreationists’ dogs). The vast majority of your constituents, who represent the non-trapping Montanan public, will ultimately suffer the negative and unintended consequences of these bills.

This list of deadly wildlife bills would put Montanans into economic jeopardy if tourism dries up, as no outdoor recreationists will want to risk themselves, their children, or their companion animals getting caught in the deadly snares allowed under HB 224. “Come ski Montana’s back country, where your dog will die in a snare,” is hardly an appealing advertisement.

Wildlife has significant ecotourism value beyond their pelt or trophy prices. In one study, authors calculated that a single bobcat in one year’s time in Yellowstone National Park was valued at $308,105, a figure 1,000 times greater than its pelt price of $315. That one bobcat enabled wildlife-watching guides, photographers to sell their prints, and other employment, including hospitality services.

Indeed, Montana is currently a top destination for wildlife-watching tourists, and tourism is key to its economy. In 2019, the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research found that 12.6 million visitors generated $3.76 Billion in revenue to Montana, funding 53,120 jobs and saving Montanans $626 in lowered household taxes.

About one-half of tourists in Montana visit the state’s iconic national parks to watch wildlife, and many of them take photos of the animals and the landscapes they see. According to the National Park Service: “In 2019, 5.5 million park visitors spent an estimated $640 million in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands in Montana. These expenditures supported a total of 9,620 jobs, $306 million in labor income, $496 million in value added, and $892 million in economic output in the Montana economy.” The Montana Department of Commerce’s (MDC) site raves about the film industry, which contributed $48 million to Montana’s economy between 2019 and 2020. The MDC even showcased the television series, "Yellowstone", which received “2.2 billion online impressions from 650 news and magazine articles” and is focused on Montana’s wildlife and their habitats.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the total outdoor recreation expenditure in Montana in 2019 was $2,498,355,000, and of that amount, hunting and trapping amounted to $29,365,000 or about 1.2 percent of the total expenditure. In other words, most people in Montana are not spending their money to hunt and trap wildlife.

These bills are completely unnecessary as hunters and trappers already have ample opportunities to kill Montana’s wolves and black bears—hunters and trappers killed about one-third of the wolf population in the last recorded season alone and more than 1,400 black bears annually since 2015, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). Across the state, elk populations are reported to be at or above objective. In fact, in its 2020 Big Game Hunting Forecast, FWP reported that: “These are good times for elk hunters, as Montana elk populations continue to be strong across most of the state.” It’s time to stop scapegoating wolves, bears and bison for perceived conflicts. We need to learn to live with these species, or they will be gone forever—just as they have disappeared from most other states.

There is widespread, diverse, and strong opposition to these unnecessary bills. Opponents outnumbered supporters by more than 10 to one for several of the bills, including HB 224 and HB 225. Opponents to wolf snaring included ethical hunters, a former Wildlife Services trapper, wildlife conservation groups, individual Montana residents, the Montana Wildlife Federation, the Montana Sportsmen Alliance and houndsmen. This overwhelming public sentiment should be heeded.

Please protect Montana’s wildlife heritage. This raft of bills goes too far for the majority of Montanans who rely on their elected officials to conserve their majestic wildlife heritage.

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