By Ron VandenBoom
Kim Kafka, a south Havre rancher and vice president of Montana Alternative Livestock Producers, told the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club Friday that if Initiative 143 passes it could cost Montana taxpayers in excess of $50 million.
That's the estimated cost to taxpayers Kafka says it will take to buy out the Montana ranchers that will be put out of business by I-143 in a "takings" situation.
Montana "takings" laws requires the state compensate business owners at fair market value for losses anytime laws, rules, regulations, or eminent domain issues, result in the loss to an individual of private property.
"I feel that if the people of Montana and the environmental groups in Montana want me out of a business that I have invested in and paid for, I'm not going to allow them to steal it," Kafka said. "They're going to have to buy me out at a business value."
He said if I-143 passes, he will be the first one into court suing on grounds of unconstitutionality.
Kafka owns a 1,500 acre fenced shooting preserve about 16 miles south of Havre near the Bear Paw Mountains where he currently runs about 75 bull elk for harvesting. He also owns a 40 acre elk farm near his home about 7 miles south of Havre just off highway 87.
The Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) and its off-shoot group MADCOW (Montanans Against the Domestication and Commercialization Of Wildlife) announced in July that it had received more than the required 19,862 signatures from 34 legislative districts to get the controversial initiative on the November ballot.
The initiative would ban all existing shooting preserves immediately and place a moratorium on the creation of any new game farms. It would also ban the transfer of game farm licenses.
The Montana Alternative Livestock Producers filed suit against the initiative shortly after the MWF and MADCOW announced that they had gathered enough signatures. The producers claim the backers of I-143 failed to follow statutory requirements in qualifying the initiative for the ballot.
Kafka admits that if they win the suit it will be on a technicality and he fully expects MWF and MADCOW to mount another attack at their first opportunity. He hopes that in the meantime the producers will have time to educate the public.
The education to which Kafka refers primarily concerns CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) a 100 percent fatal disease of an elks' brain stem that currently has no live test. The disease was first detected in 1967 in wild populations in Colorado and Wyoming and it has no known cure.
Kafka believes MWF and MADCOW have deliberately distorted the facts about CWD in order to scare people into supporting I-143 and blames the media particularly the Great Falls Tribune and the Billings Gazette for reporting MWF and MADCOW propaganda without looking into the facts themselves.
"Chronic wasting disease, in my opinion is one percent reality and 99 percent politics," Kafka told the Pachyderms. "The MWF has found a disease that there is no live test for and they've taken it as a political agenda and blown it out of proportion."
That agenda, according to Kafka is to drive a private, legal, and legitimate business out of the state of Montana.
Kafka said he believes the disease already exists in the wild herds of Montana just as it does in Wyoming and Colorado. But he emphasizes that less than one percent of elk in any state have ever been shown to have the disease and Colorado considers it to be so little of a problem they no longer require testing for the disease.
There are approximately 4,500 elk currently on game farms in Montana representing about $20 million in annual revenue. About 900 game farm elk will have been tested for CWD by December of 2000, Kafka said, noting that only about 1,000 wild elk out of an estimated population of 1 million have been tested for the disease.
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has stated that they are 98 percent sure that CWD does not exist in wild populations in Montana.