The American Sagebrush Rebellion Never Ended
BACK IN February, the Republican governor of Montana killed a wolf without a proper permit. Greg Gianforte, who is best known for slaughtering a journalist during the election campaign in 2017, trapped the creature after it strayed from Yellowstone National Park on its way to a private ranch owned by one of its political donors – the director of Sinclair Broadcast Group, including 191 local TV the stations might not frown on the Liberals’ trapping. A satirist could be proud of this western. It also illustrates what Chris Servheen, a wildlife biologist in Missoula, describes as yet another episode of “anti-predator hysteria” in the legislatures of states north of the Rockies.
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Lawmakers in Montana and Idaho recently passed a series of measures to reduce the number of bears and wolves in their states. In Idaho, a law allows wolf hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. It devotes money to private contractors responsible for hunting animals and removes limits on the number of wolves a person can kill. The law says wolves can be killed as long as their numbers still exceed the state’s recovery target of 150 animals. This means that 90% of Gem State’s 1,500 wolves are in danger. Right next door in Montana, Mr. Gianforte signed bills that, among other things, will extend the wolf hunting season and reimburse hunters and trappers for their expenses.
Wolves aren’t the only predators in the crosshairs of lawmakers. Grizzly bears are still protected in Lower 48 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But two new laws in Montana increase the likelihood of them being killed, prohibiting state employees from moving bears that roam outside protected areas and allowing people to kill a bear if they think it threatens. the cattle. Republican senators from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming also introduced legislation to remove Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Mr Servheen, who led the Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery program for 35 years, says the laws are the biggest attack on top predators in the area since they were nearly wiped out by settlers in the 19th and early 20th century.
Proponents of the laws say animals hurt ranchers and human hunters by attacking livestock and big game, such as elk. The data says otherwise. The number of cattle and sheep killed by wolves represents an insignificant fraction of Idaho’s cattle, and ranchers are compensated for their losses. There are also more elk today than when the Gray Wolves were brought back to the state in 1995.
Why, then, are Republicans eager to kill the West’s top predators? The impetus behind these laws is not new. Andrew Isenberg, a historian at the University of Kansas and author of “The Republican Overthrow: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump,” says the threat wolves pose to ranchers is largely symbolic. the ESA was adopted in 1973 and promulgated by Richard Nixon. The law called for the protection of endangered animals and, above all, the ecosystems in which they live. But these protections were seen by many in the West as overbearing by the federal government, which they said should not have a say in how Western lands are managed.
Animosity towards the ESA and other federal land use regulations in the West spilled over in the form of the Sagebrush rebellion in the late 1970s. The rebels – a coalition of ranchers, miners, loggers, oil men, local officials and Western politicians – fought to pass bills that transferred the management of public lands to states. Ronald Reagan told Utahns to “count on me as a rebel” during the 1980 election campaign. Gipper’s election calmed the rebels, but fighting on federal lands erupts whenever Western interests in the extractive industries, animal husbandry or state government collide with those of environmentalists and, lately, climatologists.
More recently, Donald Trump’s rollback of environmental laws has given would-be rebels something to applaud. The Trump administration has removed gray wolves from the endangered species list and reduced the size of protected land. The States Parties have maintained it. Montana Republicans enjoy a trifecta, which means the party controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Steve Bullock, the former state governor and Democrat, would likely have vetoed predator laws.
Conservation once had bipartisan support. This consensus, argues Isenberg, collapsed during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when the environment took precedence over the pursuit of energy independence. Maybe that calculation will change again. Meanwhile, wildlife wars rage. “It’s like watching a car crash while idling,” Servheen says of Montana’s new bear laws, “when it comes to your car and your family. ■
This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Wildlife wars”