County cattle fee proposed for predatory animal control

Cascade County Commissioners are being asked to consider a new fee for cattle producers to cover predator control.

Commissioners discussed the proposal during Wednesday’s work session, but Commissioner Jim Larson said he wanted better public notice of the proposal.

State law allows for the establishment of the fee if 51 percent or more of cattle producers in the county sign a petition in support. The number of cattle producers is determined by those who self report to the Montana Department of Revenue.

Livestock owners report their livestock and pay fees to the state, but counties can also collect a fee for localized programs.

The proposal is a 50 cent fee per head of cattle that is nine months or older and in Cascade County.

The county already has a sheep fee and contracts with the Montana Wool Growers Association for sheep predator control programs.

According to the agreement with the MWGA signed by Cascade County commissioners in August, there were 4,216 stock sheep on the tax rolls and 41,607 stock cattle.

The MWGA contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services for predator control with aerial surveillance and specialists on the ground.

The local petition was initiated by Merrill McKamey, according to county officials, and it was attempted previously but not completed. McKamey indicated to county staff that there were more people interested in signing the petition over the 51 percent threshold.

During discussion Wednesday, county legal staff said they were still working out the mechanics of how the fee would be handled.

“This is new to us in terms of how to implement,” Carey Ann Haight, deputy county attorney, said during the meeting.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said he likes the process for sheep since the claims are handled by MWGA and he doesn’t want a cattle program to become a county responsibility.

Commissioner Jane Weber said the county doesn’t have the expertise to handle that kind of program.

Commissioners indicated they would keep the proposal on the agenda but likely table it to a later date to allow for more details to be finalized and more public awareness of the proposed fee.

If approved, the fee would begin in the next budget cycle, which starts July 1.

According to a 2016 document from the MWGA, predator management was funded by MWGA, the Department of Livestock and the federal government until 1995.

The sheep petition for predator control funds was established in 1943, according to MWGA, and in 1995, the reintroduction of wolves lead to legislation that created the same program for cattle producers.

As of March 2016, there were 48 sheep petitions in Montana that went to USDA Wildlife Services, protecting 132,042 adult sheep, according to MWGA; and 27 cattle petitions in the state with Wildlife Services. Under those petitions, 1,007,316 adult cattle were protected, according to MWGA.

At the time, Carter and Powder River counties had both a sheep and cattle petition but didn’t go through Wildlife Services, according to MWGA.