By Hank Worsech, Director, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
||Montana elk management has been in the news more than usual lately. The big issue is the lack of public access in areas overburdened by huge elk herds and FWP’s attempts to reduce those numbers. Here’s some background to help you make sense of what you’re reading and hearing.
One of FWP’s most important responsibilities is to manage elk. That means we restore populations where habitat and forage allow, but also decrease numbers where herds grow too big.
Thanks to successful restoration, Montana is now home to a lot of elk. That’s good news. Montanans are passionate about elk hunting, and elk are a major draw for nonresident hunters, who bolster local economies.
But elk also knock down fences, eat haystacks, and graze pasture meant for cattle, causing major headaches for some landowners. These days, our focus is mainly on trying to reduce elk numbers in many areas.
The best way to accomplish that is with public hunting. Unfortunately, many elk have learned to hang out on private land off-limits to public hunting. When the hunting season ends, they move to the neighbor’s ranch—which had been allowing public hunting—and knock down fences and eat hay.
Responding to constituents, the Montana Legislature has given FWP marching orders to bring elk numbers down to population “objectives”—levels that habitat and landowner tolerance support. But the state can’t force property owners to allow the public onto their land to hunt and help reduce those numbers.
So what’s the solution? How do we get more hunters onto private land to manage elk and increase hunting opportunities?