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Wildlife advocates concerned about public relations tactics related to hunting, trapping amendment

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Software can bombard lawmakers with different messages from same individual

By Darrell Ehrlick DAILY MONTANAN

An out-of-state group that is lobbying for the constitutional effort that purports to protect hunting interests via a ballot measure for the Montana Constitution may seem much more popular than it is.

HOWL for Wildlife, an advocacy group that supports the measure, boasts on its website that it has sent more than 40,000 messages to Montana legislators in order to get House Bill 372 passed. HB 372 is a constitutional proposal that would classify hunting, trapping and fishing as the primary preferred method of wildlife management in Montana.

A sophisticated marketing and lobbying campaign pushed through its website allows residents to use any name they want, any email they want. Then, the software can generate up to 30 messages with different message bodies and subject lines, and send them to a variety of legislators, and generate a message to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s natural resource policy director.

Officials from HOWL for Wildlife did not respond to requests for more information.

However, using data generated by its website, that means that each legislator has received approximately 270 emails from residents and members of the public using the website, and all of them may appear under a different subject, with a different message, and may have a different name or email address.

When contacted by the Daily Montanan about the issue, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office did not comment on whether it was aware of the campaign, or if it had any concerns.

One lawmaker confirmed that he’s personally received hundreds of emails and was unaware of the coordinated campaign.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

If passed by the Republican supermajority in the house, the measure would go to the voters, and if approved, require that hunting, trapping and fishing would be used as the primary means of managing wildlife population. The bill was heard March 14 in the House Judiciary, but it has not moved from that committee. Since it’s a proposed ballot measure, the bill did not have to see action before the transmittal deadline last month.

Other organizations that oppose the measure say tactics like the one HOWL is using may be giving lawmakers’ a false measure of public opinion because they may not be aware of the campaign.

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