Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is reported to be running out of money because of decreased hunting license purchases and is considering asking the Legislature for license fee increases. This is the first obvious symptom of something known as agency "death spiral" for FWP.
Over the past two decades, FWP has come to focus on wildlife and biology, when it should have been focused on fish and game. This includes FWP's shocking tolerance and support for large predators. FWP's total, willing, even eager cooperation with fostering excessive populations of large predators has long been predicted to end in a financial crash for the agency, as word unavoidably spreads that there is no game left to hunt so there is no reason to buy a license.
For too long, FWP leaders have leaned on the scales of public policy by making excuses for the devastation wrought upon game herds by large predators, by fudging game counts and census numbers, and by blaming any game population declines that could not be covered up on climate change, sunspots, lazy hunters or aliens — anything but the truth. This coverup culture has been fostered by senior staff, always near retirement, who knew they'd be long gone from the hot seat when the FWP financial bus blundered off a cliff.
If the overall FWP attitude had not been so hell-bent on "ecosystem management," "biological diversity," "natural balance" and other similar catchy but terminal "green" ideas destined to end hunting, FWP managers would have predicted the current agency financial crisis years ago. Nobody at FWP noticed or cared several years ago when the editor of the NRA's nationwide American Hunter magazine published a feature article about his fruitless elk hunting trip to southwest Montana, a trip where the only tracks he saw were wolf tracks. Nobody at FWP noticed or cared about the other hundreds of warnings from Montana residents. Worse, those warnings were even ridiculed by FWP in mad pursuit of its own elite agenda.
The stock mantra from FWP managers has been: We're the professionals. We know best. The outcome that concerned citizens predict will never come to pass. The "evidence" of crashing game herds citizens offer is just "campfire stories" and is without merit because it doesn't come from paid FWP "professionals."
Yet when retired FWP employees, freed from the institutional FWP muzzle, tell that FWP-tolerated wolves are turning the Montana landscape into a "biological desert," FWP dismisses such comments summarily.
For the last two decades, FWP has been busy digging a hole for itself. As it sees daylight disappearing around the edges of the hole, it still won't quit digging.
Of course, the obvious solution for the bureaucratic-bound and reality-disconnected FWP will be to announce, "We've been managing wildlife for the general public (including the non-Montana public) for years. Now we need the general public to pay the bills." FWP has so fouled its nest by wasting the Montana hunting resource on predators and inadvisably removing hunters from the economic equation that it will now go to the Legislature asking for relief, including increased fees that hunters simply won't pay to access a vanishing resource, and, ultimately, asking for tax increases on the general taxpayer seeking a bailout from the results of its bad decisions.
You can bet that when FWP approaches the Legislature demanding an allowance increase as a reward for having flunked Econ 101, Montana Shooting Sports Association and thousands of Montana hunters will be there to say "Absolutely no way." FWP has not only ignored the many warnings from Montana hunters, it has mocked and disrespected them. Also ignoring a state law requiring it to control large predators to protect game herds, FWP has bulled its way down a path surrounded with warning signs.
What FWP needs is not more or alternate sources of money, but a total change in attitude and culture. Until that happens, let FWP starve! It is not serving Montana.
(Gary Marbut is president of Montana Shooting Sports Association and author of "Gun Laws of Montana.")