In an attempt to redistribute elk from private lands where they tend to congregate during the hunting season, a group of 10 Montanans has come up with a carrot for landowners: The state will hand out more permits valid only on private property if landowners will help bring elk populations down.
The idea is that if landowners attempt to significantly reduce the number of elk that congregate on their property, they may also redistribute them to adjoining public lands or even allow some public access to their property to shoot elk.
The proposal will be outlined to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission at its meeting Thursday in Helena. On Friday, the commission will decide what to do with the suggestion. The commission could incorporate the proposal into the following year’s hunting proposals, let it stand alone to take public comment, or ignore it.
“I think it has a lot of promise if the department will buy in,” said Rick Miller of Colstrip, one of the archery elk working group members. “It all boils down to trying to get private landowners more involved.”
Group member Terry Stiles, of Malta, agreed.
“I think it’s worth a try,” Stiles said. “We’re trying to come up with some possible way that those landowners won’t get bull tags unless they get elk numbers down where they need to be.”
Some hunters are already lighting up the Internet with emails opposing the proposal.
Tom Madden, of Billings, said he sees the move as an incentive for out-of-staters to buy up Montana property and haul in all their friends to hunt.
Here’s what the working group has proposed: A new type of either-sex elk permit would be created for seven hunting districts in the Missouri River Breaks and 22 other districts or portions of districts. The permits would only be valid on private lands outside of Block Management Areas. The applicant would have to make the permit their first choice when they applied. The permit would allow the applicant to only hunt bull elk in that area during the archery and rifle seasons. They could not hunt bull elk anywhere else in the state.
For the first two years, the number of such permits would not be limited to gauge applicant interest. At the end of two years, if elk numbers had not dropped to meet elk population objectives established in the statewide elk management plan or annual harvest increments developed by FWP to move the population toward the population objective, the permits would no longer be offered.
If the objectives are met, the number of permits issued to nonresidents after the first two years would be equal to the number of nonresident outfitted archery elk hunters in those hunting districts in 2007, before the current regulations were put in place.
The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which aided the archery elk working group, has not supported nor opposed the group’s proposal.
“The recommendation is to send it to the public for comment,” said Quentin Kujala, FWP’s wildlife management section chief.
After all the work the group went through to devise its proposal, the second choice was the status quo.
“I think the status quo has worked pretty good,” said Ed Bukoskey, a member of the working group. Bukoskey, of Rosebud, taught bowhunting education for 25 years.
But he also said that the quality of hunting in the state has
“Eventually the public ground is not going to have any animals on it,” he said.
Stiles and Miller agreed. Both also said they are concerned that the Legislature may step into the fray and that state lawmakers’ deliberations would not be as in-depth as the working group’s.
“It’s a complex problem, very complex,” Stiles said.
All three men said the discussions between the disparate members of the group were amicable but intense. No one was completely satisfied with the outcome, because their interests were so varied.
“All of us had to give and take,” Stiles said. “We really tried hard. And we all know we’re not going to please everyone. But I am hopeful that (FWP) will try.”
The archery elk working group included a cross-section of interests including hunters, landowners and outfitters and was formed to try and solve a problem that has been causing disputes since 2008. That’s when FWP limited the amount of either-sex elk permits in the Missouri River Breaks and the 23 surrounding hunting districts.
The move was made to ease crowding in what had become an incredibly popular hunting area. But it also limited the number of nonresidents and hence, fees that were collected by outfitters and some landowners. Attempts to amend the situation wound up in the Legislature but were defeated. The working group formed in hopes of finding some common ground.
“The problem for outfitters is they couldn’t get tags and the problem for resident hunters is we can’t get to the elk,” said Art Hayes, of Birney, a working group member. “Our proposal came out as a compromise.
“Whether it will work or not, I don’t know.”