Monday, September 27, 2021

Writer takes exception to lack of access at local event

| August 4, 2021 12:00 AM

There’s no doubt that the issue of trapping wolves can be an emotional subject and the creation of the new Sanders County Chapter for the Foundation for Wildlife Management (F4WM) probably heightened that sensitivity, which could have meant their first fundraising banquet last Saturday might have drawn some negative publicity.

Their way to avoid any type of possible threat — real or imagined — was to ban the media from attending the banquet.

Good move. Blame the press because a few people may not agree with their viewpoint. There are definitely people out there who despise the idea of any type of wolf trapping, let alone helping to pay trappers for thinning the wolf population with reimbursement funds, which is what the new wildlife management chapter is all about.

Yep, some people don’t believe wolves should be trapped and they tend to express their views very vocally. Ran into one last week. He said his dog stepped into one. I read where other people found dead dogs in wolf traps. There are people pro and con on the subject.

Regardless, when a news organization covers an event, it is supposed to be unbiased. They collect the facts and get quotes from people at the event, and let’s be frank, people at those events aren’t there because they are anti-wolf trapping, so banning the press was not only ridiculous, but wrong, especially when their organizers use that same media to promote their chapter and fundraiser beforehand.

The local newspapers were there to help get the word out in an effort to drum up business and get people to the banquet, which cost anywhere from $80 to $2,500, but that’s where it ends.

Thank you press, now go away.

I guess we’re good enough to be used for free publicity and tell people about their chapter and writing up an article to get people to attend the banquet, but not good enough to cover their actual event, even when they’re using a county building.

The local chapter president said they weren’t allowing the news into the the banquet because “a lot of people want to stay anonymous because it is highly political.”

Justin Webb, a trapper in Idaho and the executive director of F4WM, said it’s been their policy not to allow the press into their banquet.

“This policy was formed to protect our members and supporters. As you well know, wolf management is a topic which sparks strong emotions from all sides and viewpoints,” he said in an email last week. He said he and some of their board directors have had threats. Maybe in Idaho, but this is a dinky town in Montana.

He also said reporters have falsified information on the organization and “dissected sentences and build new ones from things we have stated in order to fuel their own agenda.“

This may have happened, but then maybe they shouldn’t have asked me to cover their meeting or ask the paper for an article about the banquet. At a minimum, they should have been up front with me when they first asked me to write something about their chapter meeting.

Maybe they shouldn’t have a blanket policy banning the press. What happens in Idaho isn’t always the same in Montana, especially in a small town, where they already had unbiased articles done.

Seems like they only believe in the First Amendment’s free press when it’s to their advantage. In the last free publicity we gave the group, the president said they’d like to “thank the community for their support.” Apparently, that excludes local media.

Commissioner Carol Brooker said the group has a legal right to allow or not allow certain people in the leased pavilion, but she believes it was wrong for them to censor the press.

It was especially irritating for me because I donated items for their auction, which I wouldn’t have done had I known that as a newsman, I was considered to be the evil opposition.

I don’t really have an opinion on the whole wolf population, the new chapter or the wildlife management organization, but the idea of shutting out the press is alarming and should be disheartening to others as well.

Personally, I will never cover another of their events. Of course, they don’t need us now — they got their free publicity.

Webb said the policy had been in affect for 11 years when the group was formed. OK, then that policy should have been revealed at the start and I shouldn’t have been asked to write up anything. It’s hypocritical to use the press for one aspect, but prohibiting them at their big event.

In Webb’s email, he said, don’t take it personal. Sorry, but being used and not trusted to be fair and unbiased is personal.

Ed Moreth, Plains