Not all the objective numbers are based on the
regulations of "habitat", instead of politics and special
interest greed that would privatize our elk populations have caused
artificially low objectives to force an "above objective"
situation, thereby increasing the number of tags issued, especially
in areas with landowner lands outfitted or landowner leased lands
to outfitters. Often access to nearby federal or state public lands
has been cut off. Additionally, much has changed on the landscape
that has altered the previous landowner base, predator landscape,
scientific understanding of the elk habitat forage needs in relation
to recruitment, roadless areas habitat security, etc. A review and
updating of the "objective" process within a new Elk Management
Plan EIS is necessary.
Code Annotated 87-1-323 states : Viable elk, deer, and antelope
populations based on habitat acreage -- reduction
of populations as necessary. (1) Based on the habitat acreage that
is determined pursuant to 87-1-322, the commission shall determine
the appropriate elk, deer, and antelope numbers that can be viably
sustained. The department shall consider the specific concerns of
private landowners when determining sustainable numbers pursuant
to this section.
(2) Once the sustainable population numbers are determined as provided
in subsection (1), the department shall implement, through existing
wildlife management programs, necessary actions with the objective
that the population of elk, deer, and antelope remains at or below
the sustainable population. The programs may include but are not
(a) liberalized harvests;
(b) game damage hunts;
(c) landowner permits; or
(d) animal relocation.
(3) The department shall:
(a) manage with the objective that populations of elk, deer, and
antelope are at or below the sustainable population number by January
1, 2009; and
(b) evaluate the elk, deer, and antelope populations on an annual
basis and provide that information to the public.
Management Plan Page 55 - Harbored/Refuge Elk not counted
In the section - Establishing Number
Objectives for Elk, 5. "Elk populations in portions
of some EMU's (Elk Managment Units) may be almost entirely inaccessible
to hunters during the general hunting season or accessible to only
a few hunters. To avoid over-harvest of accessible elk on public
lands or private lands open to hunting, the inaccessible elk may
not be included in objective numbers. Trend count number objectives
may include only elk normally accessible to general hunting (if
they are a distinct segment), though hunter access negotiations
will continue. Elk occupying these 'refuges' may be counted separately
where practical (if they are a distinct segment) and sub-objectives
established that could be operative if access negotiations are successful.
If significant harvest of these 'refuge' elk is possible with special
managmeent at some times and locations, they should be included
in objective levels."
This sub-objectives process needs to be implemented
in elk conversation in Montana, based on scientific evidence, not
I had been asking for years if this has ever
been utilized. Again, at this June's Commission meeting, where they
rolled out this elk shoulder season proposal, I read this section
to the commissioner and asked again. Thankfully, a hunter listening
to the livestream of the meeting heard and knew who I was, contacted
me with what they had done for their HD 270 - documents and explanation
fight to exclude harbored elk counts on private lands from overall
elk count in HD 270
Hunters with the Ravalli County Fish & Wildlife,
seeing pg. 55 of the Elk Plan, to exclude refuge/harbored elk from
the elk count applied to the objectives, pursued this application
with their local Region 2 wildlife biologists. They began this discussion
about 2003, it took time, persistence and they had to pay for an
aerial flight with their own money to prove to FWP that there were
consistently hundreds of harbored elk on the nearby CB Ranch (that
should not have been necessary), causing their HD 270 to artificially
appear over-objective. The increased tags issued, to bring the population
at/under objective, then began decimating the elk population available
on the public lands.
Finally, FWP presented to the FWP Commissioners
the request, per point no. 5, page 55 of the elk plan, to remove
the 800 "refuge" elk from the count. The Commissioners
approved the motion to establish a sub-objective of 2600 for publicly
accessible elk for HD 270 on September 25, 2008. HD 270 remains
"At" objective as a result.
"With knowledge of this elk count on the
CB Ranch, members of the Ravalli County Fish & Wildlife Association
expressed concerns about FWP's continued efforts to bring the elk
population in HD 270 to a level that would be at or below objective
by January 2009, as now directed by statute. The concern
was expressed that if FWP did not adjust its harvest strategy, only
elk herd-units on public land or accessible private land would be
reduced. These are the only elk that contribute to public
hunting recreation: therefore, elk numbers on private refugia continue
FWP recognizes that elk herd-units in
HD 270, which are accessible to public hunting harvest, will be
overharvested to the detriment of the public trust if a harvest
strategy is employed that is blind to the existence of a large elk
'refuge' in its approach toward reaching an objective of 3,000.
If elk continue to increase on the 'refuge,' then the publicly accessible
elk must continually decrease to stay at or below objective. Clarification
of the guidance on page 55 of the Elk Plan is needed to bring FWP
and interested parties together on a harvest strategy that
all can agree is intended and effective under the Elk Plan."
of HD270 "refuge" elk documents provided
by Ravalli County Fish & Wildlife
As a conservation hunter, having attended the
Valley Elk Brucellosis Working Group meetings, taking audio
at eachmeeting, in the fall/winter of 2013/2014, I heard many a
rancher complain about the elk numbers, one county commissioner
stating you should be able to kill elk anytime, wanting our sportsmen's
dollars for actions/materials similar to game damage, but without
any required pubic hunter access in return. This area is hevily
outfitted and does not participate in Block Management. I was curious
about game damage complaints, hearing all the complaints and statements
that game damage doesnt work and called Region 3 to get a summary.
I was told they did not have the data, to call Helena. When I spoke
with Helena, I was told it would have to be compiled, as they had
not done that before. I requested Region 3 and specifically Park
County from 2007-2012 (the year that this illegal elk brucellosis
program began, bypassing teh legal game damage program). The
results were that from 2007-2012, 6 years, there were only 5 elk
game damage complaints for all of Park County, some years having
none. Concerning the legislative audit of the game damage program
below, there may be more to this picture.
Legislative Game Damage Performance Audit
This legislative audit was requested
by Rep. Errol Wylie Galt (one of the largest landowners [co-owner]
in Montana - 71 Ranch LP) during the 2013 legislative session.
Interestingly, there was a petition with about 54 legislators signatures
requesting this audit. One of the main points for this audit states:
This is about using sportsmen's
dollars to supply game damage actions/materials, on some private
lands that are ineligible due to outfitting and allowing those special
interest landowners/outfitters to bypass the established public
hunt roster and supply the hunters they want (clients?). Reviewing
a number of landowner outfitted websites you see a pattern in their
advertising of a limited number of hunts/hunters allowed on the
landscape in a season - they want to increase the herd and its quality
to be able to charge more per unit, generally for large bull elk.
This creates a privatized "harboring' or "refuge"
situation also increasing the amount of cow elk on the landscape,
which they want limited - hence the game damage for the cows/antlerless.
Legislative Audit - FWP Game Damage Performance
This subject is interconnected with the Elk
Shoulder Season as yet another attempt to privatize our public elk
herds for the benefit of some greedy landowners
and outfitters. Not all landowners and/or outfitters seek to privatize
Damage Audit Overview Page provides bullet points
of the worst of the violation examples in the 56 page audit. Some
of these examples involve 82 percent of game damage complaint files
had missing or incomplete complaint forms or landowner eligibility
worksheets; landowners receiving sportsmen's dollars assistance
without being eligible; $2000-$2600 avg. stack fencing provided
without evidence of game damage; very little supervisory oversight
and responsibility for game damage program statewide; FWP creating
unregulated illegal hybrid process instead of following MCA and
ARM on game damage; established and democratic public hunt roster
being ignored with some landowners choosing the hunters they want
on their land; materials not being purchased by required contrators,
little accountability of materials and their dispersal; illegal
issuance of explosive cracker shells to landowners without ATF permit,
as well as other ammunition; etc.
Perfomance Audit - FWP Game Damage Program, May 2015, 56 pages
The whole reason for this FWP Elk
Shoulder Season proposal is stated in the Background information,
first paragraph, "This was in response to Gov. Bullock's charge
to improve landowner relations and specifically in response to criticism
that FWP was not meeting elk objectives." As mentioned above,
not all elk objectives are set by the legal mandate of habitat,
some have been solely based on landowners opinions.
The outfitter connection comes
in when a landowner outfits their own land, or leases their land
to an outfitter. If they have a vested and commercial interest in
high elk populations, with low objectives, this increases the amount
of permits for an area, even areas being listed as unlimited.
Connection page documents some of the landowner and landowner
leased outfitter connections to the elk populations in a handful
of hunt districts listed as over objective.