Since 1995, county cattle petitions have been helping USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services with predator management by providing much needed funding for Wildlife Specialists, such as Mike Hoggan, to charter a helicopter to regulate coyote and wolf populations and work throughout the year setting hardware to control predators.
According to John Steuber, Wildlife Services State Director, 29 Montana counties have cattle petitions in place, including Pondera, Toole and Liberty counties. Glacier County has a sheep petition, but no cattle petition.
Joe Kipp, Blackfeet Nation Stock Growers Association, is urging all non-tribal Glacier County cattle ranchers to sign the petition, which began circulating last week, and has already collected several signatures.
According to Kipp, tribal members are exempt from paying state or county taxes, which means they cannot be assessed the per capita fee that the county would charge non-tribal members for the cattle petition.
However, tribal members, or anyone owning cattle on the Blackfeet reservation, can pay into a fund provided by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Blackfeet Tribe and Wildlife Services. Those that wish to participate can choose how much time they want Wildlife Services to spend on their ranch–a decision that isn’t easy to make since the helicopter rate is $625 an hour.
“Keep in mind that helicopters are fast and effective,” Kipp said. “In an eight hour day, the minimum number of coyotes removed from the reservation is 100. That amounts to one coyote every five minutes, and costs about $50 a head. Most ranches can benefit from one hour of control.”
Kipp said the application to join the association and to apply for aerial control is available at the USDA/ MSU Extension office in Browning. Payment can be made immediately by inserting a check and signed application in an envelope and mailing to the address on the application.
Kipp then sends the list of participants to Hoggan, and the funds are deposited in an account at the Montana Stockgrowers Association, and can only be withdrawn by Wildlife Services.
“Our MOU with Wildlife Service is only for aerial control during calving season, as the Wildlife Service Specialist is overburdened and usually has no extra time to perform ground work for predators in a non-petition county,” Kipp explained. “We do have another MOU with Wildlife Services, and they provide as much wolf control as their work load will allow.”
“With the hard work of many residents of the Blackfeet Reservation and the cooperation of Wildlife Services, we can offer any producer on the reservation a subsidized producer cost-share for aerial control during calving season,” Kipp said. “Every producer that has joined and paid for control has had more calves to wean.”
Non-tribal members on the reservation do qualify for the county tax assessment, which means they would report the number of cattle owned, and pay $1 per head for any cattle over nine months of age. Keep in mind that the county cattle petition tax is in addition to the dollar per capita fee assessed by the Department of Livestock.
“Glacier County producers that cannot join our association because they live off the reservation will be in no man’s land,” Kipp said. “That is the reason that all eligible livestock producers should have a petition in place.”
According to Steuber, there are approximately 13,500 non-tribal owned cattle in Glacier County, which would contribute a significant amount of funding to Wildlife Services.
In 2018, county cattle petitions represented 1,051,321 cows and contributed $539,177.00 to Wildlife Services, according to Steuber. With that funding, Wildlife Services was able to take out thousands of coyotes, and facilitated a significant decline in depredations caused by wolves.
However, that funding can only be used in the counties that have cattle petitions from where the funding was collected. It does not benefit counties without cattle petitions.
The Glacier County cattle petition is now available to sign, and a copy of it can be found at Norman’s Sport and Western Wear in Cut Bank. Steuber explained the petition must be signed by the owners of at least 51 percent of the non-tribal cattle in Glacier County.
Once the petition is complete, it will be submitted to the Glacier County Commissioners to verify signatures and cattle numbers.
Once verified, Glacier County will assess the tax to all eligible producers in their county tax bill, and once collected, those funds will be sent to Montana Stockgrowers Association to be distributed to Wildlife Services.
The proposed $1.00/head on cattle would not increase unless another petition was approved by cattle producers in Glacier County to raise the fee per head higher than $1.00.
Mike Hoggan, Wildlife Specialist for Pondera, Glacier, Toole and Liberty counties, explained that the funding is split at about 60 percent for flying and 40 percent for ground operations, including setting snares and traps.
“If a county doesn’t have a cattle petition, there is no funding for flying,” Hoggan explained.
When asked how he divides his time between the four counties he serves, Hoggan said, “I just go where the problems are the worst.”
Hoggan said he tries to concentrate his flying to coincide with producers’ calving season. For instance, he said he flew Dupuyer Creek last week, where he shot 80 coyotes.
Producers in Pondera, Toole and Liberty counties, where Hoggan has been flying for the past several years, are extremely satisfied with his work, and encourage Glacier County producers to pass their own petition.
“Mike and his pilot Tim, have been doing an awesome job of keeping the coyotes under control,” said Mark Hitchcock, Dupuyer rancher. “There is nothing more effective than aerial control.”
“They (Wildlife Services) have always been willing to work with us,” Hitchcock continued. “Timing of the fly over is important to us for late January and early February. The number of coyotes they get is unbelievable!”
“We rely so heavily on cooperative funding,” Steuber said. “If a county is not providing cooperative funding, it is very difficult for us to leave a county that is providing funding to help a county that is not.”
For more information on the Glacier County cattle petition, contact Trina Jo Bradley at 406-450-1577, Dave McEwen at 406-460-0854, or Joe Kipp at 406-845-8447, or stop in to Norman’s Sport and Western Wear or BTI Feeds in Cut Bank.