Fish & Wildlife Board Issues

Andrew McKean (far left) with some of his hunter safety class students

As people often like to point out, “Elections have consequences.”

And how!

People who presumably consider themselves a hunter or angler, and might have voted for Greg Gianforte for governor last fall, because of campaign commercials showing him in hunting regalia, and boasting of his stances on gun rights, will now have four years to watch Montana’s famous hunting and fishing resources go down the tubes. 

Before the election, Gianforte’s opponents warned that Gianforte would accelerate trends to privatize wildlife and turn the management of hunting and fishing over to big landowners and outfitters.

Those fears are materializing.

There have been rafts of bills in the legislature that clearly go against the interests of rank and file hunters and anglers. One bill would have permitted outfitter-guaranteed hunting licenses, though later modified to allow early application for non-residents for an additional fee. Another would give up to ten elk permits to large landowners to sell to hunters. Still another would transfer supervision of fishing access sites and wildlife management areas from the fish and wildlife managers at FWP to the Parks people. So far, there have been no indications that the governor would veto these bills if they arrived on his desk.

The latest, however, is Gianforte’s appointments to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the public board that provides oversight over Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Of particular interest is Andrew McKean, of Glasgow. Former governor Steve Bullock nominated McKean to the commission to replace a previous member from Region 6 who had moved. Bullock’s nomination needs senate confirmation and the new governor first signaled that he supported McKean staying on the board.

Andrew McKean is a uniquely qualified person to serve on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. He worked six years as the FWP Region 6 information officer. He has been a newspaper editor, a Fishing and Hunting News editor, and is a former Editor in Chief of Outdoor Life magazine. He’s a hunting and bowhunting instructor. He was one of the founders of Highline Sportsmen, a volunteer organization dedicated to conservation and improving communications between sportsmen and landowners. I’ll note that I met Andrew at an outdoor writers conference, though I’ve never gotten any magazine assignments from him. McKean has a passion for the prairies and rivers of northeastern Montana, and the wildlife resources of the region.

Governor Gianforte has reversed his previous support and now wants Leslie Robinson of Dodson, Montana for the Region 6 member of the Commission. Ms. Dodson is a landowner and politician, a member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, and a county commissioner. She was Gianforte’s running mate when he first ran for governor in 2016.

Gianforte’s other nominees include KC Walsh, Executive Chairman of Simms Fishing Products, Brian Cebull a Safari Club International-Montana board member and an oil and gas executive, and Pat Tabor, a retired accountant turned outfitter and outdoor business consultant. Pat Byorth of Bozeman, who was confirmed in 2019, is a holdover member. Cebull and Walsh were major donors to Gianforte’s campaign.

According to a story in the Missoula Current, Tabor has five FWP citations on his record for illegally using state land. There have also been complaints of Tabor’s business dumping manure from his corrals and other garbage on public land. Tabor has also been accused of failing to submit accurate reports to the Board of Outfitters.

Brian Cebull’s affiliations with the petroleum industry make him suspect in my eyes. His affiliation with Safari Club International doesn’t necessarily make him an advocate for rank and file recreationists. Safari Club International is a big promoter of trophy hunting around the world, and that describes Cebull, too. He is on record as an opponent of the Endangered Species Act, especially regarding grizzly bears and sage grouse.

While I’m not enthusiastic about what might happen to Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, I will note that it’s now March, and it’s time to get that new fishing and hunting license for the 2021 license year, as well as to apply for special deer and elk permits, or apply for moose, sheep, goat and antelope licenses. You can do it all online.

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