Gov. Brian Schweitzer is holding trout eggs hostage in disputes with the U.S. Department of Interior.
Schweitzer told The Billings Gazette on Thursday that news reports of trout or fish egg shipments being blocked were incorrect. He repeatedly stated that shipments for Dec. 27 and Jan. 2 have been approved. He said nothing about keeping shipments from reaching Utah or New Hampshire hatcheries.
Imagine Schweitzer’s reaction if the governor of New Hampshire had issued an executive order that threatened to deprive Montana of fish eggs our state needed to stock our fisheries. There is no justification for our governor using in-state or out-of-state trout shipments as leverage against the federal government.
Schweitzer has multiple grievances with the Department of Interior. He wants Yellowstone bison moved from the Turner Ranch to the National Bison Range at Moiese. He says Yellowstone National Park has failed to control its bison population. He alleges that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has repeatedly failed to seek state permission for transporting wildlife in Montana. He complains that bison at Moiese and other federal refuges have interbred with cattle.
In his last year as governor of this great state, Schweitzer has to be thinking about his legacy. Will that legacy be an executive order’s unintended consequences and incongruous demands?
Schweitzer’s executive order, issued Dec. 13, cites his concerns about feeding grounds on the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, transmission of brucellosis and chronic wasting disease and “translocation of hybridized bison across Montana to and from other Western States.” The only thing the order says about fish is that live fish cannot be transported to or from Department of Interior lands or facilities without Montana’s approval.
For all Schweitzer’s bluster on federal-state wildlife issues, he has some good ideas. Since he took office, state agencies, the USDA and Montana ranchers have worked together to designate a brucellosis surveillance area in Yellowstone country, so when a couple of cows there tested positive for exposure (from elk), the entire state didn’t lose its brucellosis-free status. The state bison hunt has resumed and talks continue about allowing hunters and bison more acreage outside the park boundaries. Schweitzer championed all those steps.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has told the governor that the department will consider moving disease-free bison to the National Bison Range, but that such a review will take more than a year.
Schweitzer only has a year. That’s time enough to sketch out a plan for relocating and protecting genetically pure Yellowstone bison on the Montana range originally established to preserve their gene pool. If tracking federal wildlife shipments is a Montana priority, a year is time enough to reach agreement on how to do that going forward.
But there’s no time to waste on an executive order that penalizes anglers, hatcheries and trout fishing businesses. Governor, let the eggs and fish travel where they need to go. And make your position clear to leadership at Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as well as U.S. Fish & Wildlife.
As of last week, FWP had not decided whether to allow 275,000 trout eggs to be shipped this week from a Montana hatchery to North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. It’s ship or die for this live cargo.