A bill dies, animosity lives

Bison have dominated the brucellosis controversy over the years. Ranchers consistently cite possible spread of the disease as their primary source of antagonism for free-roaming herds of the massive ungulates. But in an ironic twist, it’s their fear—not the disease—that’s spreading. Now elk are being dragged closer to the center of what seems like an endless debate.

Last month, state Rep. Alan Redfield, R-Laurel, introduced House Bill 312. Redfield pitched the measure—similar to a bill that failed in 2011—as an attempt to increase state surveillance of the disease in wild elk herds. The cause was quickly propped up by several ranchers as well as the usual collection of ag groups, including the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

Scores of opponents, however, saw the bill as little more than a move to strong-arm Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks into a stringent test-and-slaughter approach to the species. The Gallatin Wildlife Association claimed Redfield’s proposal “expands the legislative war on wildlife to elk,” and would unfairly burden FWP with a $260,853 price tag for travel and testing in the first year alone. Bozeman hunting advocate Randy Newberg, the host of popular hunting program “On Your Own Adventures,” chastised the proposal during a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee Jan. 31.

“There’s no doubt that a solution to brucellosis is good for all of us,” Newberg said. “But what seems to happen is, I feel like it is Groundhog Day or something. Here we are two years later, and we are looking at a bill that’s almost identical to the same bill we had in the 2011 session.”

Redfield informed the Independent Feb. 12 that he intends to table HB 312 in the House Agriculture Committee before it goes to a vote, bringing the conversation about revisions to brucellosis testing to an abrupt halt in the halls of the Capitol. But the back-and-forth has already been sparked. Stockgrowers in the state have yet to let up on brucellosis when it comes to bison. Sportsmen have latched onto the bill as the latest indicator of what they believe is an expanding attack on the state’s ungulate species. HB 312 is dead, but its brief life did have one lasting impact: As Glenn Hockett, president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, told the hearing Jan. 31, “This bill does build animosity.”

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