Many recreationists look forward to May 15 every year as the opening day of many of Montana’s Wildlife Management Areas that are closed between Dec. 1 and May 15 to minimize disturbance to wintering big game. This year is no different, with the exception of the need for people to follow protocols for social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the more popular spots — the Beartooth WMA, between Great Falls and Helena — has curtailed overnight camping and will be open for day-use only, from sunrise until sunset, until further notice. FWP is taking this step as a coordinated effort with the Bureau of Land Management and Lewis and Clark County closures at nearby campgrounds due to COVID-19. The closure to camping will also reduce resource impacts to the WMA while there is a lack of other open camping sites in the area.
Several wildlife management areas in Montana are destinations for many people who collect shed antlers, especially on seasonal WMA opening dates. Visitors to WMAs should continue practicing social distancing and leave-no-trace principles, just as FWP has recommended for recreationists at fishing access sites and state parks.
Visitors to the Sun River WMA can expect a few additional protocol changes. To avoid large concentrations of people, FWP staff will not be weighing antlers as they typically do.
Directives from Gov. Steve Bullock also require people who travel to Montana from another state or province to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Montana before engaging in public outdoor recreation or any other activity.
While utilizing these beautiful areas, remember that spring weather can change quickly, so be prepared for cold wet conditions and muddy roads. Many of FWP’s WMAs will have grizzly bears present, so be prepared and it is recommended that all users carry bear spray and know how to use it.
For more information about WMAs, visit fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/wma/.