Fish and Wildlife Commission seeks comment wildlife proposals, 2022 fishing regulations
By angelamontana

Posted: August 27, 2021
Comments due Sept. 20 for wildlife proposals, Sept. 26 for fishing regulations

HELENA – The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is seeking public review and comment on several wildlife-related items and the 2022 Montana fishing regulations, all of which were approved for comment during the recent commission meeting.

Wildlife proposals include the wild turkey augmentations in north-central Montana, bighorn sheep augmentation on Wildhorse Island, Adaptive Harvest Management Plan for Mule Deer and the 2022 Annual Work Plan for Elk Management in Areas with Brucellosis.

More information on the wildlife proposals can be found on the FWP website under “Public Comment Opportunities” at https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/public-comment-opportunities.

Wild turkey augmentations

The department is proposing to translocate Merriam’s turkeys from over-objective populations or from areas associated with game damage landowner complaints, should any arise. The department’s objective is to move turkeys over the next three winters to habitat within riparian and/or mountainous ecological systems of the Judith River, Missouri River Breaks and the Big and Little Belt, Big Snowy, Judith and Moccasin mountains. Trapping would occur during winter months. Release sites will be identified by biologists from Region 4 based on habitat evaluations of specific locations and species habitat needs. Staff will secure permission from landowners and potentially affected neighboring landowners prior to any augmentation effort on private land and coordinate with public land management agencies prior to any release. Merriam’s turkeys or its subspecies are the only turkeys to be relocated in this effort. These translocated turkeys would supplement existing low-density populations following the severe winters in 2018–2019 and 2019–2020.

Bighorn sheep augmentation on Wild Horse Island

The bighorn sheep population on Wild Horse Island was started in 1939 with the release of six bighorn sheep from the Sun River herd and augmented with two rams from the Ural Tweed herd in 1987. The herd has grown and is a source herd for other bighorn sheep populations.  A genetic study of Montana’s bighorn sheep populations revealed limited diversity and some inbreeding within the Wild Horse Island population, although not an immediate concern.

The population objective for Wild Horse Island is 100–120 bighorn sheep.  During surveys in 2018 and 2019, about 130–140 were observed. A survey was not completed in 2020. 26 bighorn sheep were removed from Wild Horse Island and relocated to the Tendoy Mountains. Surveys subsequent to the translocation detected about 75 bighorn sheep on the island. Reasons for the apparent decline are unknown. Disease sampling conducted during the translocation effort in 2020 detected no pathogens of concern, although mountain lion predation may have influenced the apparent decline. Hunting is not permitted on Wild Horse Island since it lies within the Flathead Reservation boundary.

A translocation of sheep to the Wild Horse Island population may improve numbers and genetic diversity.

Adaptive Harvest Management Plan for mule deer

Montana’s Adaptive Harvest Management Plan was adopted in 2001 and serves as a primary guide for recommending regulations for mule deer hunting seasons. The plan remains effective for developing recommendations for mule deer management, yet several changes in approaches should be addressed in an update to the plan.  The department will address updates in a work session to explain approaches consistent with prior plan objectives.

2022 Annual Work Plan for Elk Management in areas with brucellosis

In January 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Commission endorsed elk management recommendations from a citizen working group for use in areas with brucellosis (the designated surveillance area as described by the Montana Department of Livestock). Annual work plans describe specific management actions based upon these recommendations. The proposed 2022 annual work plan includes the same approaches used in the 2021 plan to include hazing, limited fencing, limited lethal removal of elk, habitat modifications, and other efforts to move elk away from cattle at small scales to reduce the risk of brucellosis transmission from elk to cattle. The proposed 2022 plan maintains previous landownership and date descriptions clarifying where and when elk may be lethally removed to move elk away from cattle. The proposed number of elk that may be taken is unchanged from 2021.

For further clarification or additional materials, please call the FWP wildlife division office at 406-444-2612 or send an email to fwpwld@mt.gov. Comments will be accepted online at https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/public-comment-opportunities; in writing sent to FWP Wildlife Comments, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701; and by email to fwpwld@mt.gov.

Comments on the proposed items will be accepted until Monday, Sept. 20, at 5 p.m., with final adoption at the October 2021 commission meeting.

2022 Montana fishing regulations

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is seeking public comment on 19 proposed fishing regulation changes for 2022. FWP staff presented the fishing regulation changes to the commission at its Aug. 20 meeting.

The department completes a full review of fishing regulations every four years; the next large-scale review will be for the 2024 fishing regulations.

On “off-cycle” years, like 2022, regulation changes must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • clarifications to correct erroneous information or clarify intent of regulations
  • enforcement changes to prevent illegal take or reduce innocent violations
  • conservation measures to conserve or protect the population of any species
  • remove or change regulations that are no longer relevant
  • make regulation changes based on criteria outlined in management plans.

Proposed changes for 2022 include nine changes for clarification, two for enforcement, four based on relevancy and four for conservation.

Proposed 2022 fishing regulations can be found on the FWP website. The department will accept public comment on the proposed fishing regulations until Sept. 26. Comments can be provided through the FWP website at https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/public-comment-opportunities, emailed to FWPFishComments@mt.gov or sent to FWP Fishing Comment, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620.