HB 505 and improving elk management to address populations over objective

Dear Chair Fitzgerald and members of the House FWP committee,

Our organizations represent thousands of Montana hunters. We include statewide organizations and local sporting clubs who all care deeply about our public wildlife, our sporting traditions and our friends and neighbors in the landowner and agricultural community. We’re Montanans who have worked together for decades to solve the difficult issues surrounding public wildlife, access and game damage on the working farms and ranches that are a cornerstone of our state’s economy and lifestyle. 

We extend this letter of commitment to work with you and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and  Parks to find workable solutions to Montana’s over-objective elk populations. While we have serious concerns with the proposals in House Bill 505 – and we ask that this committee take no further action on the bill – we’re confident we can find common ground for ways to address the needs of landowners while ensuring elk are managed as a public resource according to the public trust doctrine. 

We look forward to the Elk Management Plan Initial Guidance Citizens Group report, which is due soon. This process – approved and funded by the Legislature – can provide direction for the solutions and strategies we can deploy during the interim. Building off of that group’s work, we would be open to an interim study to utilize the committee process to identify necessary policy solutions that can enjoy broad support. 

Additionally, there are ongoing discussions aimed at improving the host of programs currently available that incentivize public access, help landowners address problems and ultimately get more elk harvest where needed. Examples include increasing the cap on payments to landowners under the popular Block Management program (especially those in units above elk objectives),  more funding for Habitat Montana to support targeted easements and purchases, and getting more local working groups focusing on elk management in their respective areas. We have also said that the game damage hunt roster could use improvements to be timelier and more effective. 

We need to give those processes and programs a chance to work as they have in many areas of the state.  

While the legislative process can be adversarial in nature, when legislation stalls, it can also serve to highlight the need for collaboration and cooperation to solve problems. We are committed to a public process bringing stakeholders together including hunters, outfitters,  private landowners and the Department to find solutions to our over objective elk populations. 

Please keep HB 505 tabled and let us work with landowners to find common ground to improve elk management in Montana.  

Thank you for your service to the people of Montana.  

Sincerely,  

Montana Wildlife Federation, Tom Puchlerz, President 

Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers John Sullivan, President

Traditional Bowhunters of Montana, Tim Roberts President 

Bearpaw Bowmen, Nick Siebrasse, Conservation Liaison 

Flathead Wildlife Inc, Jim Vashro, President 

Montana Sportsmen’s Alliance, Jeff Herbert, Conservation Liaison 

Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Walker Conyngham, President 

Great Falls Archery Club, Jeremy Garness, President 

Helena Hunters and Anglers, Steve Platt, President 

Laurel Rod and Gun Club, JW Westman, Conservation Liaison 

Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, Mikayla Moss, Executive Director

Bridger Bowmen, Bill Siebrasse, President 

Montana Artemis Alliance, Rachel Buswell, Co-chair 

Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club, Garrett Ouldhouse, President 

Russell Country Sportsmen Association, Randall Knowles, Conservation Liaison

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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