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Originally published Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Don't mess with Montana's ranching and hunting heritage

Imagine if we in Montana had the political muscle to ban coffee, the Mariners and public transit throughout Western Washington, enforcing...

Special to The Times

Imagine if we in Montana had the political muscle to ban coffee, the Mariners and public transit throughout Western Washington, enforcing those actions with the authority of the federal government. The people of Washington would be plenty upset that outsiders had the gall and power to forcibly revise the local culture and economy.

In Montana, we feel exactly that way about the imposition of wolves in our territory by federal officials and repopulation advocates.

Wolves are very destructive of our culture and our ranching and hunting economy. Our culture and heritage of hunting game animals are so important here that they are enshrined in our Montana Constitution. And raising livestock is not a hobby here — it is not done only to provide a movie set for tourists, but it is a way of life for many of us.

For a century, hunters in Montana have fostered huntable populations of deer, elk, moose, wild sheep and goats. It is only hunters who have paid millions of dollars and volunteered millions of hours to cultivate our game herds. We think of these herds as a savings account for our children and grandchildren, that we may pass on the traditions of our culture and our heritage to them.

Without so much as an apology, much less an invitation, outsiders have brought wolves to Montana with the clear intent of feeding them with our carefully nurtured game herds — our savings account for our grandchildren.

Wolves are decimating our game herds. A 30-year game warden with a career invested in the area just north of Yellowstone Park told a legislative committee in Montana that wolves are pouring out of the park "like locusts" and turning the country they invade into a "biological desert." When wolves have consumed the game, they won't feed on grass and bark, they will disperse and turn on the livestock that supports Montana's ranching families and communities.

What of the rationale that wolves were here once, so they should be here again? Grizzly bears are also on the Endangered Species List. The most notorious grizzly habitat in the U.S. was the Los Angeles basin. The first colonies of non-Indians established there starved out because grizzlies killed the colonies' livestock. Because grizzlies were there once, notoriously so, and are also the California state animal, does that mean that we must re-establish a thriving population of grizzlies in the Los Angeles basin?

Where does common sense enter the discussion? Or, is the real explanation simply that because we don't have many voters in Montana, we have no rights — where dominance can be asserted by overbearing political will?

Are we angry about wolves? Do we resent being bullied by outsiders? Will we fight to maintain our cherished culture and traditions?

Absolutely.

We don't try to rearrange your culture or your economy. We promise no attempt to ban the Seattle Mariners. By the same standard, kindly allow us to maintain the culture and traditions we live by and love.

Gary Marbut is president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which is affiliated with the National Rifle Association and associated with Gun Owners of America and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

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