By Ron VandenBoom
Diana Wyatt, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor with the Mike Cooney campaign, said Friday during a swing through Havre that she and Cooney support recent efforts by Montanans Against the Commercialization Of Wildlife (MACOW) and the Montana Wildlife Federation to place a moratorium on elk farms and shooting preserves.
"We think a moratorium might be the right approach," she said. "It seems foolish to rush into this kind of decision making when we don't know what the 20, 30, or 40-year impact will be."
MACOW filed papers with the Secretary of State last week to start the process of placing an initiative on the November ballot that would place a moratorium on the creation of new game farms in Montana and ban the transfer of game farm licenses to other ranches or through inheritance to other family members. The initiative will also ban all existing shooting preserves.
Wyatt said she is aware that it's a "hot button issue," and noted that you're going to make people mad no matter which side of the issue you take.
"He (Cooney) thinks that we are potentially jeopardizing our cattle industry," she said. "If the wasting disease is what we are reading, it is potentially jeopardizing our cattle industry in Montana."
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease that has been known to exist in the wild in Colorado and Wyoming for more than 30 years and was recently detected in a "trace back" animal that had been shipped from an elk farm in Philipsburg. It is not known how the disease is transferred, and there has never been a documented case of transfer of the disease among species.
"One person's livelihood is potentially jeopardizing maybe 20 other livelihoods," Wyatt said.
Other more traditional forms of ranching and agriculture are also on the agenda of Cooney and Wyatt, but she admits they have no "silver bullet."
"I wish I had a silver bullet and I know Mike wishes he had a silver bullet," she said. "But part of his campaign has always been promise the possible.'"
She said there is no doubt Cooney will listen and there is no doubt he will take some action.
"But part of the problem is that farmers are not in control of their destiny," she said.
She acknowledges that national and even international forces are involved and that there are some things a Montana governor can not promise. And finding a snap solution to the problems of agriculture is one of those things.
"But no governor can make that promise," she said.
Cooney, she said, will listen to farmers and ranchers and consider four or five possible plans to aid agriculture. These plans could include trade missions, value added products, funding sources for new kinds of products, and state guaranteed financial help financial reimbursement to producers that try to develop new products.
Cooney, according to Wyatt, is also committed to using the resources of Montana's university system to assist in the development of agricultural and other products.
She said Cooney favors the development of hi-tech broad-band Internet access for Montana, but is also concerned about finding the resources to fund higher salaries for teachers without increasing property taxes.
"But Montana should take responsibility for the amount of money it takes to be competitive," she said, suggesting that a reimbursement procedure should exist that would provide teachers who have received National Board Certification a $3,000 bonus for 10 years.
She also suggested a payback formula for student loans for teachers.