Perhaps it's not surprising to hear David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, speak out against a ballot initiative to ban trapping on public lands — but his reasons why caught our interest. In particular, we perked up when Allen called it "a backdoor anti-hunting measure backed by out-of-state financiers trying to change Montana values and lifestyles."
First off, calling I-160 an "anti-hunting" measure seems disingenuous and cheaply political. (Anything anti-hunting ain't gonna fly in Montana. Anti-trapping doesn't have the same general appeal.) Plus, Footloose Montana, the local and very vocal anti-trapping group behind I-160, has smartly put hunters front and center in its campaign for the initiative to make clear the distinction. From a recent release:
Dr. Tim Provow, a Footloose Montana board member, hunter, and member of the National Rifle Association, said that most trapping on public lands conflicts with hunting ethics. “The first rule of hunting is to ‘Be Sure of Your Target!,’” Provow said. “Trapping violates this rule by its indiscriminate killing of many species, including endangered, threatened and sensitive species, such as Canada lynx and American bald eagle,” he said.
Second, who are the out-of-state financiers Allen refers to? We left a message asking for clarification from RMEF and haven't heard back. That call, interestingly, was placed to the point of contact on the release: Steve Wagner of Blue Heron Communications ... in Norman, Oklahoma.
Then we called a Footloose Montana board member for comment. That call went to Connie Poten, who lives about five minutes away in the Rattlesnake.
"I think they're trying to imply we're getting huge amounts of money from PETA," says Poten, "but that's not true. We're not heavily funded by anybody. We're operating on a shoestring. The bulk of our money comes from small donations from people around the state."
Poten also took exception to Allen blurring the line between the initiative and hunting.
"We're not anti-hunting," she says. "We have hunters on our board and have support from many hunters. We're anti-trapping on public lands."
Lastly, Poten pointed out another issue with the RMEF release. It mentions the organization's "general opposition to policymaking via the initiative process," but Poten says RMEF was instrumental in helping to pass the state's Game Farm Initiative in 2000. A High Country News piece by Hal Herring (no direct link available, but it does appear here) explained how RMEF's backing swung the vote. To be fair, RMEF's support was unusual. But an organization spokesman also told Herring RMEF isn't in the practice of telling its members how to vote, which is what it sounds like Allen is trying to do now.
It's fine if you're against I-160. It's a controversial issue and trapping has a long history in the state. But at least be honest about your reasons for attacking it.
RMEF's full release appears here:
Like hunters, trappers play an important role in wildlife conservation and management today. That fact, alongside its general opposition to policymaking via the initiative process, has led the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to come out against I-160, which would ban trapping on public lands in Montana.
David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, said, “We’ve helped conserve and improve wildlife habitat on over 600,000 acres—most of it public land—in Montana. Many of those acres wouldn’t be open at all to the public if it weren’t for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. We’re deeply invested in Montana public lands and we have absolutely no problem with regulated trapping.”
Allen said I-160 appears to be a backdoor anti-hunting measure backed by out-of-state financiers trying to change Montana values and lifestyles.
He added, “At a time when we’re facing significant impacts from wolves and other predators on elk, deer and livestock, we need to ensure that all of Montana’s management tools remain viable for the future.”
“Initiatives always carry a risk of unintended consequences, but they’re especially concerning when it comes to changing wildlife management policies. The initiative process removes science and opens the door to emotional influences. We believe that wildlife is a resource that deserves to be managed professionally,” said Allen. “RMEF will continue to support conservation professionals, sportsmen and landowners as the best voices in wildlife policymaking.”