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Where did they go

Montana's elk shoulder seasons took center stage in two pieces of legislation discussed in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee on Tuesday.

Landowners and sporting groups lined up on opposite sides of two elk measures introduced Tuesday in the Legislature that are meant to reduce the animals’ population on private lands.

House Bill 497, introduced by Rep. Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, would give the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission the opportunity to allow the harvest of more elk through extended seasons, called shoulder seasons.

Galt also introduced a measure, House Joint Resolution 18, which he said would help landowners use the elk shoulder seasons more effectively by allowing hunters to buy additional cow elk tags or for one hunter to shoot elk for another hunter in his or her party.

“I threw out ideas … that’s all these are,” Galt said. “Here’s what the landowner needs. Here’s the problem.”

Both measures were introduced in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

Pro, opposed

Groups such as the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Montana Stockgrowers Association, to name a few, lined up in support of both measures.

“We believe this (HJ 18), as well as the previous bill work well together” to address the problem, said Shelby DeMars, of the United Property Owners of Montana.

"The opportunity to collect elk during this time of abundance" seems appropriate, said Mac Minard, executive director of MOGA.

Sporting and conservation groups see the measures as an overreach in the name of killing more elk, while in the process abandoning or sidelining ethical hunting, respect for wildlife that are held in trust for the public and overriding the authority of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to study the issue, reach a compromise and enact more specific plans to attempt to resolve the situation.

“The real heart (of this issue) is not too many elk, but where they are,” said Ben Lamb, representing the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Adding more licenses indiscriminately is the opposite of what we need to do.”

“They have made killers out of hunters,” said Dave Stone of the Anaconda Sportsmen Club.

Legislator

Galt, whose family is one of the largest landowners in the state, took offense that his measures were opposed by groups representing hunters. Galt said hunters he knows, who he consulted about his legislation and who supported his ideas, could not be present at the hearings because they have to work.

“I’m tired of hunters and the way they treated me today,” he said.

Galt said his family’s property is open to outfitted hunting for elk during the regular season. During the shoulder seasons he usually takes calls from hunters, organizes hunts and shepherds the hunters around the property to try and ensure cow elk are killed.

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“I get in as many hunters as I can without pushing (the elk) off,” he said.

The hunting districts that encompass his land have an elk population that is 900 percent above the landowners’ social tolerance. Galt said killing 200 elk on his property would keep the elk population from growing, but wouldn’t reduce the herds.

Still to come

FWP will issue a report this summer tabulating how effective the shoulder seasons have been and where during the past three years. The shoulder seasons effectively allow elk hunting six months of the year in districts where elk are deemed over the population objectives.

The agency is also seeking funding from the Legislature for a full-time person to write a new elk management plan and to help implement it. The current plan is 15 years old.

"We are on the eve of figuring out how to conduct the planning process that will result in an elk management plan," said FWP's Quentin Kujala.

The committee took no action on the legislation.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.