October Fish and Wildlife Commission Meeting Preview: Habitat Projects, Brucellosis, Fishing Rules

Elk in water - David Stalling

Conservation easements and habitat acquisitions that will open up thousands of acres of public and private land to hunters will be considered this week when the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meets in Forsyth on Thursday, October 13.

The Commission will hear several major projects to protect private lands and add to a state Wildlife Management Area through a donation of land in the Canyon Creek area northwest of Helena. They will also consider the annual plan to manage brucellosis in the special management area adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. They will also give final approval to the 2017 fishing regulations, as well as consider several fishing access site projects, including two land donations to enhance river access. And they will get an update on the large fish kill on the Yellowstone River.

Habitat Montana, the popular program funded by hunter license dollars, is proposed to be used for several of the conservation easements that will help working farms and ranches.

The projects include the proposed Coal Creek conservation easement covering 10,080 acres of private land in Custer and Prairie counties, as well as 5,440 acres of public lands. Another project – the Millage conservation easement – would protect from development 400 acres north of Bozeman along the base of the Bridger Mountains that is important mule deer winter habitat.

The Commission will consider accepting 729 acres along state Highway 279 in the Canyon Creek area. The land adjoins the north end of the Canyon Creek WMA and would provide more public access to thousands of acres of Helena National Forest land. The area is popular with hunters with opportunity for deer, elk, black bear and mountain grouse hunting. It also provides important habitat for moose and native westslope cutthroat trout. The donation is proposed by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation with support from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Lewis and Clark County Open Lands program.

The Commission meeting includes a social event with commissioners 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the Forsyth Golf and Country Club, 47 Smith Creek Road. The regular commission meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 13 and will be held at the Haugo Center, 483 East Rosebud St. You can listen to the meeting online at the FWP web page.

Montana Wildlife Federation staff will be in attendance to support the habitat projects and offer comments on the elk brucellosis plan, as well as other issues.

To weigh in on a specific issue, contact MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock at ngevock@mtwf.org.

Montana sportsmen: Utah lawmaker threatens the future of hunting and fishing

mountain lake

HELENA MT – Montana sportsmen say a proposal by a Utah Rep. Rob Bishop to gut the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) would be a disaster for the future of hunting and fishing and virtually end America’s most effective tool for conserving habitat and public access.

The Utah Republican today unveiled a first look at his plans to upend the program in the House Natural Resources Committee. Among other things, Bishop’s plan would drastically divert historic funding away from projects that seek to conserve wildlife habitat and expand public access to hunt and fish.

Since 1965, the Land & Water Conservation Fund has helped conserve habitat and open up access across Montana and the rest of the United States. For example, more than half of fishing access sites in Montana were paid for with help from LWCF.

Montanans were quick to condemn Bishop’s move.

“The Land & Water Conservation Fund works for Montanans and all Americans. To say it needs ‘reform’ is an insult to its 50-year track record of success,” said Hannah Ryan, co-chair of the Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “This legislation should be seen what it is: an ideologically driven effort to torpedo America’s most successful conservation and access program.”

“All we need is full funding for LWCF,” said Kathy Hadley, President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Reform is just a diversion to run the clock down on the program. At best, it means taking funding away from America’s outdoor families. At worst, it means killing LWCF completely.”

Montana’s entire Congressional Delegation is on the record supporting LWCF, following a hard-fought effort to reauthorize it at the end of the 2015 fiscal year in September. Rep. Bishop was among those who held up reauthorizing the 50-year-old program.

LWCF, which enjoys bipartisan support and relies on offshore oil leases and not taxpayer funding, has invested in everything from playgrounds, swimming pools, and local parks. In Montana, LWCF is responsible for recently opening up public access to the famed Tenderfoot Creek in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and helped pay for most of the state’s fishing access sites, statewide.

“If you are a hunter or angler in Montana, you’ve used an access point purchased through LWCF,” said Jim Vashro a retired Fish, Wildlife, and Parks fisheries biologist and President of Flathead Wildlife in Kalispell, MT. “The program doesn’t need reform, it just needs reauthorization and full funding.”

Although the program isn’t currently authorized, stakeholders are still hopeful for a year-end fix. They don’t see any path forward for Rep. Bishop’s current vision.

“Montana has long been a leader in the effort to fund and reauthorize LWCF,” said Glenn Marx, Executive Director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “We will not let attacks on the program distract us from moving forward.”


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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.