This story is from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newscast that features a more personal side to Montana Free Press reporting.
Last week, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released a list of proposals from the 12-member Citizen Elk Management Advisory Group, which was tasked with taking a “fresh look” at issues surrounding elk management. FWP staff assessed each of the 15 proposals to gain insight into execution, funding needs, and any conflicts – legal or otherwise – they might inspire if implemented.
One of the potentially controversial recommendations is titled “choose your weapon/season”. It aims to reduce overcrowding by reducing the number of hunters in the field at any given time. If implemented, it would require hunters to decide whether to hunt during gun season or archery season, but not both. FWP’s Enforcement Division noted that it is “likely to be highly unpopular with the public and may lead to additional ‘opportunistic’ type violations.”
Another potentially pot-stirring recommendation, titled “We need to manage elk where they are not,” aims to address low elk populations in northwest Montana by engaging in more aggressive management of predators. It calls on the FWP to reduce wolf and black bear populations by expanding the seasons in which they can be hunted and to consider the use of activities such as aerial hunting of wolves in areas where elk are under population goals.
The group also recommended that FWP develop a cow-only tag for hunters pursuing their careers on private land. It would be offered in districts where elk exceed population goals. FWP staff expressed concern that this could confuse hunters by running counter to the ministry’s efforts to streamline and simplify regulations, and indicated that access to private property, not label access, is the problem that needs to be solved.
The management of elk in the crosshairs
When Henry “Hank” Worsech took over as head of the FWP, Governor Greg Gianforte tasked him with finding a new approach to balancing landowner concerns with hunter opportunities. In the aftermath of Worsech’s attempt to shake up the status quo, the department has been pushed into a lawsuit as hunters organize ahead of the 2023 legislative session.
A recommendation focused on “damage hunting” would allow landowners to leverage a list of resident hunters they trust to respond quickly to forage loss issues. The group also recommended that FWP develop an educational course focusing on landowner relations and hunting ethics to address some of the concerns landowners have expressed about opening their properties to the hunting public. After completing the course, participants would have expanded access to hunting on the property of willing landowners.
Proposals likely to generate minimal controversy include efforts to develop user-friendly data collection methods, create a landowner liaison position to work with FWP, encourage collaboration between state and federal land managers, and establish advocacy groups. local elk work where possible.
Implementing the 15 recommendations would require an additional 17.5 full-time equivalent employees and $12.4 million in state special revenue in fiscal year 2024, and $9.7 million annually thereafter. , as well as approximately $400,000 in federal special revenue each year. FWP employees expect targeted game damage beacons to bring in around $55,000 in revenue each year.
More than three-quarters of the total price would go toward completing the in-depth training course. In addition to the online lessons, participants should complete a marksmanship course and field training component.
The department will accept comments on the group’s proposals until October 14.
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