Environmental Quality Council

EQC is Updated on State Parks, Invasive Mussels, and a Variety of Wildlife Topics

Committee: Environmental Quality Council
Author: Joe Kolman
Posted on October 4, 2017

Image of a Canola Field in Northern Montana

The Environmental Quality Council wants the governor to explain how terminating the chair of the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board complies with state law.

Tom Towe was terminated Aug. 22 because he defied the governor’s opposition to legislation that would have given the board stronger oversight of parks, according to a letter from the governor’s attorney.

However, state law says a board member may only be removed “for cause.” The Environmental Quality Council (EQC) requests a written response from the governor detailing how Towe’s termination complies with the law.

The termination controversy is part of a larger EQC study of the parks division of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. The division oversees 55 state parks and spent more than $12 million in Fiscal Year 2017.

The DFWP reported that aquatic invasive mussels were not detected in Montana’s waters this summer. More than 58,000 boats were inspected. Mussels, which can impair fisheries and clog irrigation structures, were found on 16 vessels. More than 80 citations were issued.

The DFWP also updated the council on chronic wasting disease, a neurological disorder that affects deer, elk, and moose. It is present within miles of the border with Wyoming and also near the state line with the Dakotas and Canada. New laws restrict the transportation of animal parts and urine, which may carry the disease. The agency is also ramping up surveillance.

In other wildlife news, the DFWP reports there are approximately 76,000 greater sage-grouse in the state. The 2017 Legislature required the population report, which is an estimate based on the number of male birds counted at breeding grounds. The state has a greater sage-grouse habitat and conservation program that aims to keep the bird from warranting federal protection.

The EQC objected to a proposed DFWP rule for training bird dogs near upland game bird nesting areas. The rule would allow up to four dogs to be trained within a mile of a nesting area. More than four dogs would be allowed if the training occurs between September and the end of March. Permission would be needed for training more than four dogs per day within a mile of the nesting area between April and the end of August. The agency said the proposed rule stems from reports of as many as 60 dogs being trained at a time to the detriment of game birds.

The EQC’s objection prevents the rule from being implemented for six months. The council will revisit the issue at its January meeting.

Also in January, the EQC will examine fees related to fire funding and will study options for the Natural Heritage Program, which is part of the state library. The program collects data for flora, fauna, and biological communities in the state. The information is widely used by government agencies and others for environmental reviews required by law.

Archived video of the meeting is available at http://leg.mt.gov. For more information contact Joe Kolman, committee staff, at 406.444.3747 or jkolman@mt.gov