Wildlife Watch: Management of Elk under Advisory

This story is taken from the TM detailsa weekly newsletter that shows a more personal side to Montana Free Press reporting.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released a list of proposals from the 12 members last week moose citizen management advisory groupwho was in charge of bringing “new eyes” to Moose Handling Issues. FWP staff evaluated each of the 15 proposals for information on implementation, funding requirements and any conflicts, legal or otherwise, that might arise if implemented.

One of the recommendations that is likely to generate controversy is titled “choose your weapon/season.” Their goal is to reduce overcrowding by reducing the number of hunters in the field at any given time. If implemented, it would require hunters to decide to hunt during rifle 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 recommendation likely to rock the pot, titled “we have to manage elk where there aren’t any,” aims to address the declining elk populations in northwestern Montana by engaging in more aggressive predator management. Calls on FWP to reduce wolf and black bear populations by extending hunting seasons and consider using activities such as aerial wolf hunting in areas where elk are under population targets.

The group also recommended that FWP develop a cow-only tag for hunters pursuing game on private land. It would be offered in districts where elk exceed population targets. FWP staff expressed concern that this could confuse hunters by going against the department’s efforts to streamline and simplify regulations, noting that access to private property, not access to tags, is the problem to be solved.


Targeted Moose Management

When Henry “Hank” Worsech took the helm of FWP, he was tasked by Governor Greg Gianforte with finding a new approach to balance homeowner concerns with hunter opportunities. In the wake of Worsech’s attempt to shake up the status quo, the department has been embroiled in a lawsuit as hunters organize in anticipation of the 2023 legislative session.

A recommendation focusing on “damage hunts” would allow landowners to pull information from a list of resident hunters they trust to quickly address concerns about forage loss. The group also recommended that FWP develop an educational course focused on landlord relations and hunter ethics to address some of the concerns landlords have expressed about opening their properties to the hunting public. After completing the course, the participants would have expanded hunting access on the property of willing landowners.

Proposals likely to generate minimal controversy include efforts to develop user-friendly data collection methods, create a liaison position between landowners to work with FWP, foster collaboration between state and federal land managers, and establish advocacy groups. localized elk work when possible.

Implementation of the 15 recommendations would require 17.5 additional 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 about $400,000 in federal special revenue each year. The FWP staff expects focused game damage tags to generate around $55,000 in revenue each year.

More than three-quarters of the total price would go towards taking the in-depth education course. In addition to the online lessons, participants are expected to complete a course component of field and marksmanship training.

The department will accept comments on the group’s proposals until October 14.

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