Now is the time for wildlife advocates to raise their unified voices

At the Fish and Wildlife Commission August 20, 2021 the commission charged with stewarding our fish and wildlife went on to vote against the will of the people and enacted extended elk shoulder seasons on public land along with measures meant to exterminate wolves. Commissioner Byorth was the only one to stand up for Montana’s hunting ethic. Byorth said, “I just want the commission to recognize how the preponderance of comments, both in the elk shoulder seasons and wolf seasons, is clearly opposed to the decision we’re making, and I just want to caution us to remember that these are the owners of the wildlife and we gotta be cautious about listening. It’s just propagating, I think, the perspective that this administration has a war on wildlife and they’re not interested in the voice of the many and they’re just interested in the voice of the few. It’s a dark road we’re going down.” 

The following is a memo prepared by MWF staffers Eric Clewis and Marcus Strange that details the actions taken by the commission, the changes implemented, and the concerns MWF has with these actions.

Wolf and Furbearer Trapping Setbacks

  1. No Setbacks – Designate the following new areas as No Setbacks Required for any species. 
    1. Region 1 
      1. All of Sanders County (unless designated as a no trapping area or maintaining current setbacks) and southern portions of Lincoln County south of Highway 2 to Big Cherry Creek, then west following Big Cherry Creek to the intersection of Lincoln and Sanders County lines. 
      2. Exceptions – Maintain current setbacks of 50 ft for furbearers and 150 ft for wolf at: 
        1. Trout Creek-Hope Valley Road from the Forest Service boundary to East Fork Trout Creek and Granite Creek junction. Maintained road for public access in the winter. West of Trout Creek.
        2. Prospect Creek Road from the end of snow maintenance to the junction of Prospect Creek and Demont Creek, west of Thompson Falls. High use public use-ski area. 
        3. Forest Service Roads #7507 and #340 in the Baldy Lake area north of Plains. Snowmobile and ski area. 
  2. No Trapping – Designate the following new areas as No Trapping allowed.
    1. Region 1 – all sites are small in size and feature high-use winter public recreation. 
      1. Mule Pasture recreation area, Thompson Falls. 
      2. Finely Flats recreation area, between Thompson Falls and Trout Creek.
      3. Trout Creek recreation area near Trout Creek.
      4. Trout Creek administrative and recreation site, Trout Creek.
      5. Bend Ranger Station- forest service rental cabin and recreation area in the Thompson River Drainage.
      6. Sheldon Flats recreation area, Libby.
      7. Flower Creek recreation area, south of Libby.
      8. Bear Creek Ski Area, south of Libby.
      9. Round Meadow Ski Area- North of Kalispell on Star Meadow Road. (Consolidate current expanded setbacks area).
      10. Blacktail Ski Area, in Lakeside (Consolidate currently expanded setbacks).
      11. Schnaus Rental Cabin-Sonderson Meadow – North Fork of the Flathead.
      12. Cedar Flats Recreation Area, north of Columbia Falls.

Primary concerns:

  1. Setbacks are in place for the good of all public land users. Removing setbacks will further damage the trapping image.
  2. Removing setbacks presents a significant danger to pets when viewed in concert with the addition of wolf snares.
  3. The provision for expanded setbacks was wholly removed from the proposal.

 

2021 Wolf Season Quotas, Regulations, and Season Dates

  1. Bag limit of 10 wolves.
  2. Up to 10 wolves per hunting license.
  3. Trapping and snaring season dates of 1st Monday after Thanksgiving – March 15th for the entire state
    1. There will be a floating open season for trapping within districts located within grizzly bear recovery zones. The department may pick a start date based on conditions. If the department does not select a date by December 15th, then the season will open on December 15th and run through March 15th.
  4. Snaring is allowed on public lands, with the following restrictions:
    1. Snares must be equipped with a loop stop that will close to a loop no smaller than 2.5 inches in diameter (stop placed at no less than 8 inches from the end of the loop).
    2. Snares must have a breakaway device rated at 1,000 lbs. or less installed on the loop end.
    3. Snares must be placed such that the bottom of the snare loop is at least 18 inches above the ground’s surface.
    4. If snares are allowed on public lands, power-assisted (e.g., spring-loaded) snare locks are prohibited on wolf snares on public lands.
    5. A relaxing snare lock is required on snares in lynx protection zones (LPZ’s).
    6. Snaring is not allowed within areas designated as grizzly bear recovery zones.
  5. Night hunting is allowed on private lands statewide.
  6. No hunting over bait is allowed except on private lands statewide:
    1. Bait is defined as the meat or viscera of a mammal, bird, or fish, or any part thereof more than one pound in weight. Bleached bones are excluded.
  7. Quotas around YNP and GNP are eliminated.
  8. A harvest of 450 wolves shall initiate a commission review with the potential for rapid in-season adjustments to hunting and trapping regulations. After that, the commission shall be similarly re-engaged at intervals of each additional 50 wolves harvested, if season adjustments allow for additional wolf harvest.
    1. The following regional quotas will also be instituted to allow for rapid review as the season progresses.
      1. Region 1: 195
      2. Region 2: 116
      3. Region 3: 82
      4. Region 4: 39
      5. Region 5: 11
      6. Region 6: 3
      7. Region 7: 4
  9. A non-target capture of one lynx or grizzly bear shall initiate a commission review with the potential for rapid in-season adjustments to trapping regulations. After that, the commission shall be similarly re-engaged for any additional non-target capture of lynx or grizzly bear.
  10. All non-target captures shall be reported to the department within 24 hours, including captures from foothold traps and snares. 
  11. All other aspects of regulations adopted for the most recent past season remain unchanged, except for those influenced by routine calendar rotations or other proposals pending before the commission.

Primary concerns:

  1. Running trapping through March 15th will mean traps will be out when grizzly bears emerge from their dens.
  2. The 2020 wolf harvest and population data have not been released.
  3. There is no sound mechanism by which the F&W Commission can meet quickly if and when the quota is reached.
  4. Quotas in the areas around Yellowstone National park and Glacier National park have been removed.
  5. Night hunting and the use of bait are not consistent with ethical fair-chase hunting.
  6. Snares will lead to non-target capture of grizzlies and lynx.

2021-22 Elk Shoulder Season Adjustments

  1. Should Season Expansion and Continuation
    1. Added a shoulder season in HD 314 (LPT 314-00).
    2. Extend the late season to Feb. 15, 2022, for all relevant license-permit types for antlerless elk shoulder seasons in Hunting Districts 262, 290, 298, 314, 390, 391, 393, 411, 417, 502, 510, 511, 520, 530, 540, 560, 575, 580, and 590.
  2. Shoulder Season Public Lands
    1. The department recommended not expanding shoulder seasons to public land as part of the 2021 shoulder season structure but considering it later as part of the biennial season setting process.
    2. Expanded shoulder seasons onto public land in the east half of HD 411 and potentially other hunting districts.

Primary Concerns

  1. The results of the 2020 shoulder seasons have not been shared with the public. 
  2. The shoulder seasons were not meeting the agreed-upon criteria before 2020, and it is still unknown if they met the requirements in 2020.
  3. Shoulder seasons on public lands run counter to the purpose of a shoulder season: to move elk off private property and back onto public land.
  4. Hunting pregnant cow elk in the dead of winter is poor wildlife management and a detriment to the image of hunting.
  5. These hunting districts are in areas where there is heaving trophy elk outfitting. The department is catering to the interests of outfitters.
  6. These shoulder seasons lay the groundwork for a move to a ranching for wildlife model, as seen in other states.
  7. The voice of the people is being ignored. The majority of comments opposed these changes.
  8. The department is blatantly ignoring its standards and the best available science. 

The Fish and Wildlife Commission made it abundantly clear that they will continue to push the rhetoric and legislative agenda that came out of the 2021 Legislative Session. As Commissioner Byorth pointed out, public testimony overwhelmingly opposed these measures, and yet every proposal moved forward. Both elected and appointed officials continue to ignore the will of the many in favor of special interests. Now is the time for wildlife advocates to raise their unified voices in support of our hunting heritage and fairchase hunting principles.

 

By Montana Wildlife Federation Programs and Partnership Director Marcus Strange and Montana Wildlife Federation Western Montana Field Coordinator Eric Clewis.

Hierarchy of Gear

I am a passionate bowhunter and love talking gear. While discussing gear is fun, I also recognize that budgets are tight, and articles like this can be overwhelming.  My approach to acquiring equipment is a gradual process that has taken years to execute. I shop sales and look for deals. My favorite gift is gift cards (hint, hint). I borrow items I’m missing from friends and use that time to determine whether I need that item. No matter what your budget, the most important thing is that you can have incredible experiences in the field. Make that your priority, and let the acquisition of gear follow.

The Hierarchy of Gear

Everyone has a “hierarchy of gear.” This hierarchy is the list of things that you need when you go hunting in order of necessity. Everyone’s list looks a little different, but we all have one. Knowing your hierarchy of gear will help you decide what equipment you need to add to your system and when to add it. My top five items that I need, in order of importance, are:

  1. Weapon
  2. Boots
  3. Pack
  4. Optics
  5. Clothes

Boots

In my hierarchy of essential gear, boots are second only to my weapon. My boots of choice are the Crispi Idaho II GTX. They are reliable, do it all boot that performs whether you’re chasing elk through the mountains or hiking to a tree stand along a river bottom. If your feet are wet, blistered, and hurting, you will have a hard time enjoying your hunt. If you’re tight on funds, I recommend looking for an uninsulated boot that you can wear during the archery season and add an extra sock to during the rifle season. You should also be aware that you don’t need to buy “hunting” boots. Most hiking and mountaineering boots will work equally well for a hunt and can then be multi-purposed for your other adventures.

Back Pack

The third item in my gear hierarchy is my pack. For me, the ideal pack is one that can be used as a daypack or as a multi-day pack. Whatever backpack you choose, make sure that it can handle the weight of a pack out. I look for packs with an internal frame and an external load shelf to handle packing out harvested meat. I use the Sky 5900 from Stone Glacier, an expedition pack that can convert down into a daypack. Stone Glacier is a Montana company who’s products are made in the USA. They also give back to conservation and have supported MWF. If you’re looking for a less expensive option, check out ALPS Outdoorz or the King’s Camo Mountain Top 2200. You can also use a regular backpacking pack, but bring something to line the inside or be prepared to wash it should you need to pack out meat.

Optics

If you can’t find game, it’s hard to hunt. Optics give the hunter an advantage when it comes to spotting wildlife. I spend a TON of time glassing, but I still like to keep my optics simple. Because of the light, run, and gun style of hunting that I practice, I don’t use a spotting scope. I also don’t care about seeing the animal in great detail. I just need to know is it an elk and is it a cow or bull. For me, 10×42 binoculars do everything I need in the field. I use the Maven Optics 10×42 due to their combination of sleek design and superior glass.

Clothes

My first season hunting, I had roofing boots, double knee Carhartts, and cotton shirts. My clothing options have come a long way since those days. Whether one believes that camouflage is needed or not, having comfortable clothes while hunting makes a big difference. I use synthetics that are breathable and durable. I have been adding in some merino wool products in strategic situations. 

I’ve tried most major hunting lines, and there are pros and cons to each. If you have the funds, I would recommend Sitka Gear. They are a Montana company that gives back to conservation and makes fantastic products. If your budget is tighter, you can pick up some very usable Realtree, synthetic camo from your local Walmart or sporting goods store. Between those two options, there is a spectrum of options that will also work. DON’T let your clothes hold you back. There are many options out there that won’t break the bank, and most outdoor clothing is good enough with which to start hunting. My one rule is to avoid cotton due to its tendency to absorb moisture and cause chafing.

You can download my full gear list HERE. I use an excel form that Brady Miller from goHunt.com developed. This sheet is a good starting point and checklist for you to use as you plan your next adventure. Download the file and adjust it to fit your needs. If you have any questions about hunting gear, contact MWF Program and Partnership Director Marcus Strange at mstrange@mtwf.org

Support a Lead Free Montana

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MWF knows that hunters care about wildlife like no one else and they have shown a willingness to do the right thing in defense of wildlife. In Montana, we are seeing too many occurrences of our wildlife becoming critically ill due to lead poisoning, contracted from consuming lead left in gut piles. While this is an unintentional repercussion of hunting with lead ammunition, the impact can be mitigated when hunters switch to lead-free alternatives. We are asking you to join us in our Lead-Free MT initiative by taking the MWF Non-Lead Pledge. By taking the MWF Non-Lead Pledge you agree to help wildlife and your fellow Montanans by:
  • Only use lead-free ammunition, such as steel or copper, when hunting.

  • Where possible, practice at established ranges so lead on the landscape is confined to specific, manageable areas.

  • Help to educate others on the benefits of hunting with lead-free ammunition by sharing your knowledge and experience.

While these steps may seem simple, the positive effects they will have can not be understated. It is our role to stand up for the wildlife that can’t stand up for itself. Stand up for Montana’s wildlife today by taking the MWF Non-Lead Pledge HERE. Together we can support our wildlife and each other by creating a lead-free Montana.

Supporting our Network of Dedicated Affiliates

MWF is fortunate to work with our network of dedicated affiliates. In an effort to better support the work our affiliates do, in 2019 MWF started an affiliate grant program to award funding to our affiliates who are working with conservation-minded landowners on wildlife habitat protection and enhancement.

20180517 085614 resizedMWF awarded one of the first of these grants to the Western Bear Foundation (WBF). Due to the increasing presence of grizzly bears near Valier Montana, residents have become increasingly concerned about bear activity near Lake Francis Campground, which is directly adjacent to the town. 

WBF and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks identified a need for better bear-proof garbage cans at the campground.  In an effort to be proactive, mitigate conflict, and protect wildlife, WBF placed 6 Kodiak Bear Proof Containers at various locations around the campsite. The garbage cans are 96 gallons each and are able to be dumped by sanitation staff without having to leave the vehicle.

Bear proof garbage cans will help prevent grizzly bears from using the campground which is within Valier town limits. Additionally, the visibility of such receptacles will promote bear aware behaviors and actions in the town community. Keeping bears away from town and showing that agencies and organizations are working hard to keep people safe will aid in building tolerance for the grizzly bear population in the area. 

20180517 085434 resizedMWF is proud of the work that our affiliates, like WBF, do. We are looking forward to awarding our 2020 grants soon and support more quality work from these conservation stalwarts. We encourage you to also support your local MWF affiliate by becoming a member or donating to them today. If you would like to learn more about MWF’s affiliate program, contact Marcus Strange at mstrange@mtwf.org

 

New Affiliate: Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument

Canoeing2MWF is thrilled to welcome the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument (Friends) into our network of affiliate clubs! The Friends joins 18 other organizations who support the mission of MWF through advocacy and policy work and retention, recruitment, and reactivation of outdoor enthusiasts in the state of Montana.

The Friends is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded in 2001 to advocate on behalf of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (Breaks). Located in central Montana, the Breaks surrounds the wild and scenic Missouri River as it flows through nearly half-a-million acres of central Montana prairies and badlands. The Friends protect and preserve the Breaks through their advocacy, education and stewardship work.

For more than 80 years, MWF’s network of affiliated conservation organizations has worked tirelessly to help move forward the protection and enhancement of Montana’s wildlife, wildlife habitat, and public access. Without these organizations, MWF would not be able to do the quality work that we are recognized for. If you think your organization would benefit from becoming an affiliate of MWF, contact Marcus Strange, Program and Partnership Director, at mstrange@mtwf.org

Join Today

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Alec Underwood

Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking. 

alec@mtwf.org