Montana Hunters and Anglers Applaud Wildlife Commission’s Endorsement of Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

DSC_3205Photo Credit: David Stalling & son fishing for trout within the proposed recreation area of the BCSP

The Montana Wildlife Federation applauds today’s decision by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP). The five-member, governor-appointed citizen committee, which oversees the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, voted unanimously today to approve a resolution endorsing the effort.

“The commission’s support recognizes the value of this cooperative project for Montana’s fish and wildlife, and hunting and angling heritage,” says Kathy Hadley, president of MWF. “It’s a great example of local citizens coming together to reach balanced compromises that protect and enhance healthy forests, fish, wildlife, hunting, angling, other recreation, jobs and traditional Montana values.”

The BCSP is made up of a variety of individuals and organizations of diverse backgrounds – including ranchers, loggers, hunters, anglers, county commissioners, snowmobilers and environmentalists – to shape the management of our public lands in and around the Seeley-Swan Valley. MWF is a partner and strong supporter of the project.

“By working together, we are cutting through much of the divisive, partisan rhetoric that shapes so much of our public lands management today,” says Mack Long, a hunter, guide and owner of Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters, “and showing that we, the people on the ground, can achieve workable and viable solutions.”

Project partners are urging Montana’s Congressional delegation to introduce legislation to approve and implement the BCSP.

To learn more, visit the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

Fight Invasive Species: Inspect, Clean and Dry

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Boating season is here; time to remember to help fight aquatic invasive species — non-native plants and animals that can cause harm to our waterways and fishing.

Yesterday I took my son, Cory to the Seeley-Swan valley to canoe and fish. On the way, we stopped at a mandatory boat check station run by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).

It was a good reminder about invasive plants, such as Eurasion watermilfoil, and invasive animals, such as zebra and quagga muscles, that can have severe and negative impacts to our native fisheries. These invasives can “hitchhike” their way from one waterway to another on our boats, waders and other fishing gear.

The stop was very educational, with the main message being: Do your part to stop aquatic hitchhikers: Inspect. Clean. Dry. (Keep your boat and gear clean and free of debris; remove all mud, water and plants; and let your boat completely dry before using it in other waters.

The good, friendly folks from FWP gave us some informative brochures, a sponge to clean my boat with, and showed my son and I some actual zebra mussels so we know what they look like.

Help protect our lakes, rivers, streams and our exceptional fisheries! To learn more, check out: http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/species/ais/

Dave Stalling is Montana Wildlife Federation’s Western Field Rep. You can reach him at dstalling@mtwf.org.

Treeless security for big game. Really?

Elk standing in field - Skip Kowalski - Dec 2013Photo Courtesy of Skip Kowalski

The Helena National Forest is rolling out a new amended standard that does not require any security cover during the hunting season. Flying under the radar has been a proposal to the change the security standard that has been in place for three decades.

Trees, officially, will no longer be necessary for big game security during the hunting season, according to the Helena National Forest. What has been a proven, science-based Forest Plan standard for wildlife security during the hunting season for 30 years, has involved a direct relationship between security cover and road density: the more roads within a square mile of public land, the more security cover for wildlife is required, and conversely less security cover is needed when fewer roads are present. But, at no time on public land has security cover been considered unnecessary — until now.

The existing old standard is based on decades of peer-reviewed research by dozens of wildlife researchers. There are no new studies that refute the long-standing science of wildlife security needs on public lands. That research focused on the need to reduce roads, but never did the science suggest that vegetative cover should be reduced as a component of security during the hunting season.

However, the decision has been made to amend the security standard to no longer require vegetative cover anywhere on the Divide or Blackfoot landscape that protects elk, deer, and other big game during the hunting season.

This insidious change is about to accelerate across national forest wildlife habitat, affecting fair chase hunting, and facilitating timber removal.

Montana wildlife can live in a dense forest without roads, but they cannot readily survive on treeless public lands with roads. And as wildlife find themselves less secure, they move to private lands where herds can no longer be managed through public hunting, where private landowners suffer game damage impacts, where commercialization of the public’s wildlife through outfitting too often becomes the landowner’s solution, and a frustrated public finds their favorite hunting spot in a new clearcut, devoid of big game.

On a variety of levels, the pending amendment to the big game security standard will have important consequences. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has agreed to the change in big game security if travel plans for the Divide and Blackfoot landscapes are implemented. But the consequences of treeless public lands will last for years and be manifest in game damage complaints. “Shoulder” seasons are now being implemented by FWP at the request of outfitters and some landowners to harvest wildlife displaced from what had been secure public lands. These “Shoulder Seasons” will occur on private lands – many of which have not been fully open to public hunting during the regular season, but before and after the regular season, elk will be pursued for up to 6 months – from August into February.

Denuding public land security pushes commercialization of wildlife into the hands of those who would “Ranch for Wildlife.” If they haven’t already, Montanans will soon realize that what happens to public lands will determine where public wildlife will end up, and whether they are privatized.

The decision to amend the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest security standard is pending. But there is still time to have a long-term positive effect for big game security by urging FWP to help keep public wildlife on public land, and by advocating for big game security in Forest Plan revision on the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest. Please, step up.

Gayle Joslin is a retired FWP wildlife biologist of 30 years, and member of Helena Hunters and Anglers Association.

SCIENCE-BASED MANAGEMENT SOMETIMES MEANS GIVING UP HUNTING OPPORTUNITY

Elk sticks out tongue during winter scene.

Hunters are often asked to give up opportunity when a game species is struggling. And as conservationists, we know that it’s the responsible thing to do for the long-term health of our cherished public wildlife resources. In Montana, we have a long history of stepping up and doing just that. An excellent example is with antelope in eastern Montana following the brutal winter of 2010-2011. We went from 13,000 either sex licenses and an additional 7,000 doe tags to a total of 3,000 tags in southeastern Montana. It was a tough change, but that herd is recovering. Future generations will thank us for protecting their opportunity to hunt these antelope.

Hunting District 313, near the town of Gardiner on the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park, is another example where we need to limit hunting in order to support the long-term survival of our big game for future generations. The northern Yellowstone elk herd, which moves between the park and public and private lands north of there, has dropped to an average of just 2.7 mature bull elk per 100 cow elk. The number is below the threshold that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) considers sustainable, and the agency has proposed to address the situation by going from the current unlimited permit system to a limited draw for 75 bull permits.

This is a dramatic change, but it’s necessary. FWP biologist Karen Loveless has analyzed the data and come up with a science-based recommendation to protection the long-term survival of the herd. That’s what wildlife managers do – they use the best available science to recommend management actions that will keep the herd around for the future.

Unfortunately, FWP’s proposal has encountered some harsh, unwarranted criticism. Last week, the agency held a public information session on the proposal where several outfitters and area hunters criticized Loveless’ data. They pointed to a couple years when the herd wasn’t surveyed, including one year when the agency skipped the survey for budget reasons, to refute all of the data the agency has assembled. One outfitter repeatedly questioned Loveless’ educational background.

We can’t stick our heads in the sand or talk our way out of paying attention to good science. Facts are facts. The herd in HD 313 is struggling when it comes to bull-cow ratios. It’s been on the decline, despite the fact that the overall herd numbers are rising. Some who oppose the proposal are making claims about how much money it could cost the town of Gardiner to limit permits, but doing nothing will cost even more.

The Montana Wildlife Federation supports FWP’s efforts to recover the Gardiner elk herd. As hunters and conservationists, our first priority should always be the long-term survival of the public wildlife resource, managed with the best science. We can thank past generations for limiting their own hunting opportunity so that we can enjoy the best wildlife in the West today. We owe the same to future generations.

Nick Gevock is Montana Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Director.

BLOCK MANAGEMENT

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MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock recently took this nice antelope buck on a Block Management Area in southwestern Montana that opened up thousands of acres of private and public land to public hunting. If you’ve got a photo you’d like to share, send it to mwf@mtwf.org

For thousands of Montanans, as well as hunters from around the country, this upcoming Saturday is the best day of the year. It’s the opening day of Montana’s general deer and elk hunting season, the day that many have for months been waiting for.

There has been a lot of preparation going into the day. Rifles have been carefully sighted in, vehicles packed with tents and gear and supplies to make camp for days or even weeks. And of course hunters have been getting ready by scouting his or her chosen area to find a place with a chance to punch a tag.

Of course that key element – a place to go – is vital for hunting opportunity. Montana is blessed with millions of acres of public land, including national forests, Bureau of Land Management and state Wildlife Management Area lands that are open to all. Montana is also blessed with thousands of generous landowners to welcome hunters to their properties to enjoy the abundance of wildlife we’re blessed with.

Some of them chose to do this through a program that is a model throughout the country, and that is the popular Block Management program. More than 7.5 million acres are enrolled statewide. Through Block Management, landowners allow public hunters onto their lands. In return, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks through fees paid by hunters provides services including enforcement, hunter management and proper signage to help out landowners. And landowners also receive payments to help offset some of the impacts of hunters, including weed management. Each area has its own rules, and hunters need to check with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for more information.

Block Management is mentioned by hunters from throughout the West as a great partnership. Montanans as well as non-resident hunters have come to rely on these areas throughout the state as great hunting opportunity. The program not only opens up private lands, but in many cases also provides access to adjoining public lands. It’s been a huge success, and one that the Montana Wildlife Federation strongly supports.

If you get out on a Block Management area this fall, be sure to thank the landowner. Hunters are still guests on these areas, and without them we’d have less hunting opportunity.

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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