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Objective: Wild Livelihoods is collaborating with businesses, land-owners and other organizations to implement proven strategies that protect humans, livestock and predators, all of which help drive our predominant tourism economy. We are not opposed to hunting, including of predators. Many of our business owners hunt. But hunters and non-hunters are both protected by FWP's charter to hold all animals in the public trust. FWP receives funding from the general tourism industry, not just fishing and hunting funds. All economic and individual stakeholders of wildlife deserve a seat at the table when it comes to the debate over quotas of predators. We oppose any special interest group that cherry picks which species matter more than others. We especially oppose special interest groups who don't do the hard work of presenting actual data for their claims, especially when it would impact our livelihoods. FWP should base its quotas on actual data. Where it doesn't have that data, it should expect its citizenry to fund them to get such data.

Cougars and our Livelihoods

We are a business coalition comprising more than 160 local businesses located north of Yellowstone National Park. Our livelihoods rely on the preservation of natural areas. Our coalition consists of local community business owners who contribute taxes and share a common belief in the importance of maintaining the wildness of the Greater Yellowstone region for the sake of our livelihoods. Tourism is a 1/2 billion dollar annual industry to Park County and multiple survey, including the state's Department of Commerce, show that wildlife watching is the #1 activity in our area. Literally hundreds of local mom and pop businesses depend upon that tourism economy. FWP's charter is to maintain sustainable wildlife populations for all of the public. Furthermore, FWP on average recieves over $200,000 annually from Park County bed taxes and now imposes a tax (which we support) on non-fishing recreational users of our waterways. Hunting and fishing are not the only ways FWP is funded.

The dominance of wildlife watching to the local economy is undisputable. Furthermore, predators are highly valued attractions and drive business demand. In Montana alone, opportunities to view wild wolves generate over $83 million annually. While elk and bison also attract visitors, people prefer to experience a diverse and wild habitat that showcases the full spectrum of what nature has to offer.

Currently, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is being presented with a special interest proposal for a 40% reduction in three of our local Lion Management Units. The recommended quota lacks the necessary data on cougar populations in our area and appears to be based on an un-proven correlation (not causation) between "purported" lion estimates and the reduced mule deer population counts in our area (elk are above objective). The recommendation from this "coalition" for region 3 states "We support a blend of the status quo or modest reductions with exceptions for depressed ungulate population areas." But then the actual recommendation for LMU's 313, 314, and 317 proposes the maximum reduction of 40% used for other areas of their state. Either their cover letter is disingenuous or it is inaccurate, or they are going to correct it and align it with their actual recommendation for 313, 314, 317. We are not opposed to lion hunting. But in light of the value of lions and predators in general to our local economy, we expect FWP to present causative proof that ungulate populations such as mule deer are depressed (where they are under objective) due to lions.

Either we are above elk objective or not? Either we are above mule deer objective or not? And if mule deer populations are under objective, what are the multi-modal causes (e.g. habitat reduction) and why are Mule Deer B tags being issued in our area.


Instead, Wild Livelihoods business coalition agrees with some of the most skilled houndsmen in our region, many of whom are part of the Montana State Houndsmen Association, who oppose this other "coalition's" recommendation. Houndsmen have a right to hunt or "catch and release" and "catch and kill" sustainable numbers of cougars, just as mule deer hunters have a right to pursue their prey. Likewise, wildlife enthusiasts have a right to scientifically determined quotas that maintain sustainable populations for the public who pays money and drives our local tourism economy. Moreover, many ranchers in the area are against increasing the elk population due to the additional burden of vaccinating against brucellosis, a disease transmitted by elk in our region. Managing predator populations at balanced levels, where the predator-prey relationship maintains a natural equilibrium, is a cost-effective and non-taxpayer-dependent way of managing elk populations. We only need to look at the reintroduction of wolves in the early 90s to witness the impact they had on elk numbers, which the ranching community recognized as being excessively high. Regardless of any rancher's personal opinion on wolves, are we going to use the public tax dollar to manage elk numbers when predators can play at least some role in doing so, while also driving economic activity for those of us in the tourism industry.

In addition to acknowledging the economic benefits predators like cougars bring to our area, we believe that the state should develop a comprehensive, balanced, and scientifically grounded management plan that is not swayed by the narrow interests for specific species. We commend the FWP Commission for utilizing data collected by the Lion Ecoregional Planning Objective Committee to assess population trends and establish quotas. We encourage them to continue this practice. Quotas should be based on accurate population data and should take into account the economic and social interests of all stakeholders within their respective regions.

As for ungulate populations in our area, including mule deer and pronghorn and big horn sheep (three species we should all be collaborating on), Wild Livelihoods business members are doing actual, boots-on-the-ground work on behalf of these species' long-term viability. Just four active projects we are engaged in include:

  1. "Payment for Presence" (elk and livestock co-existence strategies)

  2. Wildlife friendly fencing

  3. Sub-division regulations and voluntary conservation easements to protect mule deer and pronghorn migration paths

  4. Yellowstone Safe Passage (highway underpasses for wildlife)


This does not have to be a zero-sum game. Let's get to work as a community improving wildlife habitat for all...hunter and non-hunter alike. Habitat fragmentation is the long-term threat to mule deer, sheep, and pronghorn numbers in our area. We encourage, dare we say "challenge", these special interest groups to actually show up at local conservation meetings (or invite us to yours) and get to work on actual projects to improve ungulate habitat, while supporting our tourism and ranching community as they deal with the costs of running businesses in the Greater Yellowstone while others get the benefit of Yellowstone National Park and all of the ungulates they send across their borders to outfitters and hunters alike. At a bare minimum, let's work together to uncover the actual data about cougar population numbers in LMU's 313, 314, and 317 and their predation rate on ungulates AS WELL AS all other causes on mule deer population decreases so that multi-pronged approach can be taken to conserve them. Only then can a genuine debate begin over the "right" number and one that considers all social interests.

Economic Risk

As visitors to southwestern Montana start to voice their opinion regarding how Montana wants to manage wildlife (including carnivores), they are making it clear as to if they want to spend their money here. ​Here are a few economic highlights with respect to recreational tourism in our area (for more data, see here) and the impact that wild places have on it.

  • One and only year-round driving entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

  • 22% of all labor income fueled by travel, tourism and recreation.

  • Park County alone generates roughly $500,000,000 in tourism revenue annually. To put that in perspective, all of Park County's annual agricultural revenue runs at about $34,000,000 ($24m in livestock and $10m in crops). Based on the 2021 estimated predation losses (of all kinds), less than .075 percent of that revenue was lost to predation.

  • Lodging/accommodation wages and revenue are the largest economic category in our region. Lodging tax revenue for Park County, driven in large part to Yellowstone National Park visitation, in 2021 generated almost $3,400,000 for Montana's general fund, various heritage programs and recreational use programs, including FWP. 

  • Small business proprietors (or self-employment) represents a significant portion of all employment in Park County, accounting for 39% of all jobs in 2014.  This has grown over the last decade from about one-third of all jobs before 2000 and this growth has been entirely among non-farm proprietors.  Statewide in Montana proprietors accounted for 27% of all jobs in 2014, up only slightly from 26% in 2000. 

  • A 2017 survey of non-resident tourists visiting Montana shows the time spent on various activities ranked as:

    • 56% Scenic driving

    • 36% Day hiking

    • 34% Wildlife watching

    • 29% Nature photography

    • 26% Camping

    • 24% Recreational shopping

    • 19% Visiting other historical sites

    • 17% Visiting local brewery

    • 12% Visiting museums

    • 12% Visiting Lewis & Clark sites

    • 9% Fishing / Fly Fishing

  • As the rate of tourism goes up or down, which business/retail categories categories are impacted the most (ranked in descending order according to the State Department of Commerce expenditure categories):

    • Gasoline Outlets (e.g. Town Pump)

    • Restaurant & Bars

    • Hotel & Motel

    • Outfitter & Guides

    • Retail Sales

    • Grocery Stores

    • Auto Rentals

    • Rental Lodging

    • Campground & RV Parks

    • Vehicle Repairs

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