County gets more details on proposed cattle fee, but postpones vote to Jan. 22

County Commissioners postponed a vote on the proposed cattle fee to their Jan. 22 meeting.

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.

County cattle fee proposed for predatory animal control

The number of cattle is determined by the property tax record of the last preceding assessment, which in this case was 47,620 head of cattle owned in Cascade County.

In September, cattle producers submitted a petition to create per capita fee for predatory animal control, but didn’t meet the legal threshold for signatures.

In November, they submitted a revised petition with the owners of 27,063 cattle, or 56.8 percent of cattle in Cascade County. Their petition is for the establishment of a 50 cent per head of cattle fee for predator control. The fee already exists for sheep owners for predator control in the county.

Commissioners discussed the fee during last week’s work session but had scant details on implementation of the program.

During the Jan. 8 meeting, Merrill McKamey explained the process cattle owners used to gather petition signatures.

He said there has been increased livestock losses in the county and local producers desired predator control. The petition model has been used in 27 other Montana counties and in recent years, Lewis and Clark County producers petitioned to increase their fee.

Commissioners had expressed concern about awareness of the proposal among cattle owners and McKamey said they held meetings in Belt, Eden Hall, Fort Shaw, Cascade and made multiple announcements during livestock auctions in Vaughn. He said they made about 200 phone calls and met in person with about 150 people. They also handed out fact sheets that included contact information of various resources related to predatory animals, McKamey said.

Some producers said they’d support the petition but didn’t have time to physically sign the petition, McKamey said. More than 100 signatures are on the petition, representing owners of more than half the cattle in the county, he said.

Commissioners said during their work session that they didn’t want the county to take on the responsibility of creating a predator control program since it lacked the resources and expertise.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said last week that he liked the model used for the sheep fee and the partnership with the Montana Wool Growers Association for management of that program.

Kraig Glazier of USDA Wildlife Services out of Helena said the program would operate in Cascade County as it does is many other Montana counties.

That model is that the county assesses and collects the fee and gives it to the Montana Stockgrowers Association with a memorandum of understanding just like the one with the MWGA for predator control.

MSA contracts with Wildlife Services, which contracts with the Montana Department of Livestock for use of their helicopters for predator control, Glazier said. The bulk of the fee goes toward the aerial support and the rest is for local specialists that handle investigations and corrective actions.

The funding is not used to reimburse livestock owners for losses to predators. That’s a separate program operated by the state, Glazier said.

Money collected through the Cascade County fee can only be used for predator control operations within Cascade County, Glazier said.

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.