Houndsmen turned out in force Tuesday to oppose a bill that would allow trapping of mountain lions and support one that would allow the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to authorize hunting black bears with hounds.
Supporters of House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, touted the use of hounds to hunt black bears as a way to promote family time together, remove bears that are preying on elk calves, remove dangerous bears and those causing problems with homeowners and beekeepers.
“Hound hunting is far more effective than the spot and stalk method,” said Matthew White, a Butte houndsman who testified.
FWP’s wildlife management chief, Ken McDonald, spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of the department, saying the current spring and fall bear seasons already do a good job of managing black bear populations and that hound hunting raises social concerns. Dogs have not been allowed to pursue bears in Montana since 1921, he said.
Some of the concerns McDonald cited were the overlap of the fall season with other hunting seasons; that female bears could be unnecessarily separated from their cubs; and a concern that dogs can’t distinguish between black bears and grizzly bears, which are listed as an endangered species.
“The grizzly bear issue is a big one for us,” said Nick Gevock, speaking for the Montana Wildlife Federation in opposition to the bill. “I think we’re getting close to a season on them and delisting, and we wouldn’t want to jeopardize that.”
In questioning by one of the committee members, McDonald said that the concerns about hunting bears with hounds would exist even if the bears weren’t killed.
No one spoke in favor of HB 29, sponsored by Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, which would allow trapping of mountain lions, but houndsmen did rise in opposition, citing the animal’s status as a trophy big game animal.
Jim Daine, of Hamilton, told the committee, “Mountain lions deserve more than a predator status. They are an important resource and should be managed with respect.” He added that lion hunting has brought a lot of revenue to the state.
Gevock said trapping is needed for wolves but not for mountain lions. Dave Pauli, of Billings, said trapping is nonselective and could harm dogs.
McDonald said FWP didn’t have a problem with the bill if it could be rewritten. He said there are situations where it’s not practical to hunt lions with dogs and where trapping would be a good alternative.
Washburn said all of the large predator species in the state are overpopulated. He noted that trappers are very good at being selective about what they take.
“I don’t see a problem with it,” he said.