Something is wrong in the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department

Photo by jack murrey

Something is very rotten in Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

An educated guess would point to the Gianforte administration’s attitude toward informing the public about what is wrong – or likely to go wrong – with the environment. But “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a dead-end strategy for the state’s future — and a damning trademark from a governor who sees Montana as a “product” to be sold as quickly as possible.

In the latest case, Dr. involved Eileen Ryce, the Fisheries Division administrator who was mysteriously placed on “administrative leave” on May 17. As Laura Lundquist of the Missoula Current reports, “Sources within FWP said Ryce was publicly escorted out of FWP. headquarters in Helena on Friday. Sources asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.” And when reporters asked why, Gianforte’s appointed FWP director Dustin Temple hid behind the administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” tactic and has “declined requests for comment.”

Looking at Ryce’s performance in leading the Fisheries Division, a few things stand out that may have something to do with the director’s action. Put bluntly, Ryce has told the truth about a number of fisheries issues that do not portray the Gianforte administration in a good light – especially in an election year.

Recently, Ryce released the agency’s analysis of toxin levels in fish in the Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers. The news was not good, to say the least. In a nutshell, the fish in the 140-mile stretch of the Clark Fork are so contaminated with the known and potent carcinogens PCBs, dioxin and furans, that Ryce’s division has recommended that no fish be eaten because there is no “ safe consumption level” exists. ‘for those toxins.

The people of Montana owe a debt of gratitude to Ryce for telling us the truth – and protecting not only our health, but especially that of our children. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the Gianforte administration does not want the truth to come out when the state spends millions of dollars every year touting Montana as the nation’s trout mecca. It’s also not the kind of news that speaks well of our regulatory agencies and their failure to heed the Montana Constitution’s “inalienable right to a clean and wholesome environment.” Quite the opposite, actually.

Ryce’s truth-telling was also spotlighted earlier this year, when she appeared before an interim legislative committee and raised a red flag about the number of private ponds allowed by the agency. As Ryce detailed, the state already has 10,000 private ponds and currently allows at least 200 per year…basically one every workday for the agency.

The concern is that these ponds are usually stocked with fish purchased from private hatcheries here and abroad. Shipping fish from private hatcheries presents a significant opportunity for introducing diseases or non-native invasive species into state waters from the ponds, many of which are located in floodplains near major rivers.

The people of Montana also owe a debt of gratitude to Ryce for telling the truth. Once invasive species or diseases are released into Montana waters, they are very expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of.

Sure enough, this week the department sent out an alert saying they had discovered the first Mystery Snails in Montana, near Finley Point on Flathead Lake. A fisherman further proves Ryce’s concern about what is being dumped in private ponds by reporting that he caught a Dojo Loach, or “pond creeper,” native to East Asia, “in a small pond” near Bozeman.

Those who have been watching the Gianforte administration’s approach to our environment, fish and wildlife are well aware of the efforts to keep the public out of government decision-making, with increasingly shorter or total non-existent opportunities for public review and comment. .

All Montanans should be concerned when an honest and competent state official like Ryce is muzzled and placed on administrative leave for telling the public the truth and raising red flags about potential disasters from private ponds and imported fish and disease.

Election year or not, nothing stinks worse than rotten fish — and right now the stench is coming from the office of the governor and his Director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

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