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.

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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.