Funds for wolf-killed livestock approved

Great Falls Tribune

by Karl Puckett

Congress approved legislation Wednesday requiring the federal government to bear a portion of the costs of livestock killed by wolves and to help fund prevention efforts such as electric fences.
The legislation authorizes the interior and agriculture secretaries to establish a five-year demonstration program in which states and tribes will be reimbursed 50 percent of what they give to landowners. The reimbursement provision was hidden in a public lands bill with 171 provisions, including the creation of wilderness in nine states.
The bill is now headed to the desk of President Barack Obama. An extra layer of protection for some U.S. Bureau of Management Lands, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks Monument in Montana, also was authorized in the legislation.
“We’re back in business,” said George Edwards, Montana’s Livestock Loss, Reduction and Mitigation Program.
Word that Congress would be helping out his office came just days after the state was notified by Defenders of Wildlife, a private group, that it would donating an additional $50,000.
Defenders previously contributed $50,000 to help the office get started.
The idea behind the state program was to reimburse landowners the cost of wolf-killed animals to maintain public acceptance of wolves after they first were delisted last year.
But eight months after the office began accepting claims, its $80,000 in start-up funds had been distributed. The office currently has 20 unpaid claims.
The “wolf-kill bill,” sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., passed the Senate in January. Previously, he said up to $1 million a year could be authorized in matching funds.
Tester spokesman Patrick Devlin said funding amounts would be OK’d later through the agriculture or interior departments. Tester serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Edwards said most of the funding would end up going to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
Also contained in the bill was a provision creating a National Landscape Conservation System protecting 26 million acres of important lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including 832,101 acres in Montana.
Greg Albright, a BLM spokesman in Billings, said the NLCS already is in place, having been created administratively by the BLM to provide consistent management for national monuments, conservation areas, wilderness and wild and scenic rivers.
With the passage of the bill, Congress has “recognized the system” and put it into law across the country, he said.
“Will anybody see any change on the ground in Montana as a result of this? No,” Albright said.
Mary Jones, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Missouri River Breaks Monument, praised the move by Congress, saying it would prevent future changes to NLCS system lands.