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FWS tries to smooth dispute with Montana governor

By Matt Volz
Associated Press / December 29, 2011
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HELENA, Mont.—Federal officials attempting to smooth over a wildlife management dispute with Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer sent over their plans to transport 4.5 million trout eggs from a federal hatchery over the next month.

The planned shipments from the Ennis National Fish Hatchery have become political leverage in the dispute as the Democratic governor attempts to persuade the Interior Department to change how it manages other wildlife, particularly bison.

The eggs go to state and federal hatcheries across the nation with the aim of stocking waterways with trout for recreational fishing.

Schweitzer said the state needs to know about fish and wildlife shipments within its borders, but has received little cooperation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Earlier this month, he signed an order prohibiting the shipments by the Interior Department without state approval, and then threatened to block the egg shipments.

Steve Guertin, the regional director for the FWS's Mountain-Prairie Region, sent a letter Thursday to the governor, listing the dates and the number of fertilized rainbow trout eggs the FWS intends to ship through Jan. 30 from the Ennis hatchery to points from Nevada to New Hampshire.

"We are keeping with Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar's commitment to maintain really open lines of communication with the state of Montana about wildlife management issues," said FWS spokeswoman Noreen Walsh.

Schweitzer said he was dissatisfied with the schedule, saying it is an incremental step -- "a tea cup of water melting from a glacier," as he called it. He said a request for information about past shipments has not been answered.

Schweitzer also said the letter was the third such schedule his office has received in just over a week, and that all three contained conflicting information about the shipment dates.

Walsh said she could not speak about previous schedules, but Guertin's letter accurately represented the dates planned for the shipments.

The wildlife management dispute began after Interior officials this month rebuffed Schweitzer's proposal to transfer some bison captured from Yellowstone National Park onto the National Bison Range, which is near Moiese in western Montana. The refusal prompted Schweitzer's executive order halting all fish and wildlife shipments.

Salazar later indicated the bison transfer was still a possibility and would be evaluated by his agency, but said the study would not be completed in the next year.

Schweitzer said earlier this week that he would not block egg shipments meant for New Hampshire and Utah after federal officials pledged to provide details of activities on the National Bison Range. He said then that he still planned to block three more shipments scheduled for Tuesday to South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska.

But on Thursday, those shipments departed the hatchery.

"We haven't stopped them from shipping anything, and we probably won't in the future. We just want to know what they're shipping," Schweitzer said.

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