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Montana elk management at ‘crossroads’ according to report

BILLINGS, MT – After a gathering of hunters, landowners and wildlife managers, a new report draws some conclusions on how Montana can better manage its elk population.

The Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition has published a report on the Elk Management Symposium, which took place in August.

Kathy Hadley, a board member of the Montana Wildlife Federation and a hunter who spoke at the symposium, said management is at a crossroads in Montana.

“We have had declining harvest rates on public lands over the last few years of elk, declining numbers of elk on public lands, and a problem of having too many elk on private lands,” Hadley outlined. “So there’s an imbalance in the system that didn’t use to be here.”

The Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition developed three policy recommendations based on the meeting. Hadley noted the symposium took place while Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks begins to design a new elk-management plan.

Hadley pointed out one of the recommendations is to update landowner incentive programs such as Block Management, which provides funds to landowners in exchange for opening up access to their lands to hunters. She added the program has about 1,200 landowners enrolled and opens up access to more than six million acres. Hadley believes hunters should deal with the issue of too many elk.

“Maybe we need to increase payments to private landowners who allow hunters on their lands,” Hadley suggested. “And we just thought maybe that particular program might be useful to update it to engage more landowners who are having these problems.”

The other recommendations include revising the structure of hunting seasons and exploring new funding models for restoring habitat. Hadley emphasized lawmakers from both parties were part of the symposium, and so she hopes to engage them in the 2023 legislative session on these issues.

“Wildlife management, historically, has been bipartisan, and we’re trying really hard to get us back to that place,” Hadley stressed.

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