The Montana legislature meets every other year for 90 days. There’s always talk of how this isn’t long enough to get the people’s business done, but some years (like this one) would be better skipped altogether. The legislature–ever filled with pillars of anti-government, anti-regulation conservatism–is awash in a strong infusion of tea this year. To let you know how bad it is for animals, let me first tell you how bad it is in general.
Here are just two examples. One House representative pleaded for keeping the death penalty based on the “fact” that inmates now kill their guards with AIDS-infected paper airplanes. (OK, she called ’em blow darts.) Another sponsored a bill making it public policy to acknowledge that global warming is beneficial to Montana’s welfare and business climate. (Mercifully, this one was just tabled.)
In a whacked-out atmosphere like this, what chance do animals stand? To wit, a few items from the little shop of horrors Republicans are busy creating for native wildlife. Let’s start with nullification of the Endangered Species Act, which would solve the “wolf problem” once and for all. Proponents invoke Thomas Jefferson and claim that the ESA is an unconstitutional use of Federal power. This bill is still chugging along.
Legislators want to reclassify mountain lions as predators, essentially declaring open season on them. Read about Montana’s recreational predator killing here. They want to regulate wild bison (think Yellowstone’s iconic herd here–the last genetically-pure, migratory herd we’ll ever know) as livestock. They’ve proposed a slew of anti-wolf and grizzly bills–including one to declare the griz population recovered and allow preemptive killing.
One misguided senator wants to return Montana to the Stone Age, allowing atlatl and hand-thrown spear hunting during general rifle season. When is enough enough? We’ve got bullets, arrows, and traps; we’ve got year-round, unlicensed recreational killing of many predator and “nongame” species in addition to regulated hunting and trapping seasons. As if there weren’t already methods and opportunities enough to maim or kill animals in Montana! This bill has passed out of the Senate and awaits its House hearing.
(Why, you might ask, is a Montana legislator infatuated with Neanderthal bloodsport? This astute senator cited defensive end Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. Allen’s showy exploits are available online, where he spears a domestic elk on an Illinois game farm.)
Let’s consider suffering, something a majority of our senators failed to do or simply dismissed. A poorly-placed bullet can quickly be followed by another, but what about spears…? I posed this question to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, pointing out that legislators are not wildlife experts, and should not be making such serious decisions without knowledge of the consequences. Is there research on injuries to animals from poorly-thrown spears? Is there data from other states? Shouldn’t this be part of the discussion?
This answer came back from the FWP Law Enforcement Bureau: “When this bill was introduced, we sent out an inquiry through National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs (NACLEC) regarding this issue. Of the 50 states, 35 responded, with all but one not allowing spears or atlatls for hunting big game. Many states did allow it for either small game or birds, however. The one state that did allow it for big game hunting (Alabama) had only one season behind them and had no information regarding wounding, etc. That is really the extent of the information available to us at this time.”
FWP is taking no position on the bill, maintaining that it’s a “social issue” with no biology involved.
Is spear hunting actually about hunting–or really just about ego and killing? Let Gene Morris of Alabama be your guide. Morris, the self-proclaimed “greatest living spear hunter in the world,” has killed 542 animals with spears, more than 80 of them two at a time (a spear in each hand), and is working on killing three at a time using his leg. He’s even built a museum to pay homage to his killing career. If you like what you see, you can order DVDs. ”All the kill scenes are very explicit,” he says.
This post first appeared at the animal law blog, Animal Blawg.