With the 2017 hunting seasons basically over, a large group of local hunters gathered, last week, to learn what changes Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is planning. It was a wide-ranging discussion of various topics ranging from elk management to deer pee.
Vanna Boccadori, the FWP big game biologist stationed in Butte, was the meeting’s moderator, though there was a big complement of other biologists from the area, as well as game wardens, and Mark Deleray, the new Region 3 Supervisor (more on him below).
Deer pee? Because of concerns regarding chronic wasting disease, FWP banned the sale of ungulate urine scents. FWP is now proposing to modify the ban to allow scents if urine sources have been certified to be CWD-free, with the Archery Trade Association the certifying agency. Based on comments, there are still potential complex issues.
Elk shoulder seasons were a hot topic. FWP is studying options to evaluate the elk shoulder seasons, currently limited to 43 hunting districts, and to revisit the issue every three years. There was extensive discussion of the shoulder seasons, especially concerning District 215, the district closest to Butte that offers a shoulder season.
Proposed changed to the annual youth deer season drew discussion. Currently, it’s a two-day season just before the general deer and elk season, and usually coincides with the annual Montana Education Association break. The proposal would make it a four-day season in years when the MEA break doesn’t coincide with the two days before the general season. It would also increase the age for participating youth to age 17 instead of age 15. In a show of hands, the sentiment among attendees seemed to be in favor of not making any changes.
Boccadori presented proposals for District 340, or the Highlands District, to allow harvest of either brow-tined bulls or antlerless elk on a general license, which she felt would be more effective in managing elk populations. She indicated that the underlying reason for the change is, “I’m trying to maximize hunter opportunity and sustainable harvest.”
Discussion on elk management returned repeatedly to the persisting dilemma of private landowners not allowing hunter access to their property, while often selling guided hunts for bull elk. This leads to increased pressure on neighboring public lands, resulting with elk migrating to private lands. At the same time, FWP is obligated to manage elk populations with goals set by the state legislature.
There was extensive discussion of mule deer management, especially a proposal to go to an either sex harvest in District 329, also known as the Horse Prairie District west of Dillon. Craig Fager, the biologist based in Dillon, defended the recommendations saying the deer are there and harvestable. Some people vigorously disagreed with that assessment.
Fager commented on some of the complexities of mule deer management, concluding, “There’s a lot of moving parts in this.”
There was extensive discussion of habitat issues. In many previously productive mule deer areas, there has been significant conifer encroachment, crowding out the brushy browse habitat favored by mule deer. There seemed to be general agreement that where elk populations are high, it has been at the expense of mule deer.
There are no planned changes to wolf hunting regulations. Following a grumble about “too many wolves,” Boccadori responded, “You’ve got six months, dude. Get after it!”
For new Region 3 Supervisor, Mark Deleray, this round of winter meetings has been an opportunity to get to know biologists and game wardens in the Region, as well as to meet members of the public. He commented that the people at the Butte meeting seemed to be both well-informed and vocal in expressing opinions.
Deleray is a California native, and did graduate work at Montana State University. He spent the last 20 years as the Region 1 Fisheries Manager, based in Kalispell.
The entire proposed changes are available at the FWP website. FWP accepts public comments in person at public meetings, by mail, or online. The deadline for comments is 5 p.m., January 24, 2018. The FWP Commission will make final decisions on changes at its February 15, 2018 meeting.