This story is an excerpt from MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter excerpt that showcases a more personal side of Montana Free Press’s reporting.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks last week released a list of suggestions from the 12-member Citizen Moose Management Advisory Group tasked with bringing “fresh eyes” to issues related to moose management. FWP staff evaluated each of the 15 proposals to gain insight into execution, funding requirements and any conflicts – legal or otherwise – they might create in implementation.
One of the recommendations likely to cause controversy is titled “Choose Your Weapon/Season”. It aims to reduce crowding by reducing the number of hunters in the field at any given time. If implemented, hunters would have to choose to hunt during rifle season or archery season, but not both. FWP’s Enforcement Division noted that this “is likely to be very unpopular with the public and may lead to additional ‘opportunistic’-type violations”.
Another recommendation likely to stir the pot, titled “We Must Manage Elk Where They Are Not,” aims to address smaller elk populations in Northwest Montana by advocating more aggressive predator management. It calls on the FWP to reduce populations of wolves and black bears by expanding the seasons when they can be hunted and to consider the use of activities such as aerial hunting of wolves in areas where moose are among population targets stand.
The group also recommended that FWP develop a cow-only marker for hunters tracking their prey on private land. It would be offered in counties where moose exceed population goals. FWP staffers expressed concern that this could confuse hunters as it runs counter to the department’s efforts to streamline and simplify regulations, noting that access to private property, not access to brands, is the problem being solved got to.
Moose management in the crosshairs
When Henry “Hank” Worsech took over the helm of FWP, Governor Greg Gianforte tasked him with finding a new approach to balance landowners’ concerns with hunters’ opportunities. After Worsech’s attempt to shake up the status quo, the department became embroiled in a lawsuit as Hunters organize in anticipation of the 2023 legislative session.
A recommendation focused on “harmful hunting” would allow landowners to draw from a list of resident hunters they trust to quickly address forage loss concerns. The group also recommended that FWP develop a training course focused on landowner relations and hunter ethics to address some of the concerns landowners have expressed about opening their properties to the hunting public. Upon completion of the course, participants would have expanded access to hunt on the property of willing landowners.
Proposals, which are likely to generate minimal controversy, include efforts to develop user-friendly data collection methods, creating a landowner-to-landowner liaison body to work with FWPs, encouraging collaboration between state and federal land managers, and establishing local moose working groups where possible.
Implementing all 15 recommendations would require an additional 17.5 full-time equivalents and $12.4 million in special federal income in fiscal 2024 and $9.7 million annually thereafter, and approximately $400,000 in special federal income per year. FWP employees anticipate that targeted wildlife damage tags will generate approximately $55,000 in revenue each year.
More than three quarters of the total price would flow into the implementation of the advanced course. In addition to online classes, participants are expected to complete a marksmanship and field training component of the course.
The department is accepting comments on the group’s proposals until October 14.
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