HELENA, MT – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking public input on revisions to the statewide Elk Management Plan last adopted in 2005. FWP began work on the revised plan in 2020, when a citizen’s group was convened to develop guiding principles for the new plan.
In a recent opinion editorial on the topic of elk management, former Montana state Senator Debby Barrett wrote that, “Montana’s elk population has tripled over the last 40 years. For decades we have exceeded the sustainable objective levels in most hunting districts. FWP’s goal is 92,000 elk in Montana, but today there are an estimated 175,000. That excess elk population causes immense damage to family ranch operations in overpopulated areas, and it’s a problem that grows worse every year.”
FWP is seeking input on the existing elk population objectives and local elk management challenges that should be considered in the revision. The scoping period started several weeks ago, but meetings have been sparsely attended and FWP has received few comments to date.
“We’ve been hearing concerns and interest from hunters and landowners about the current Elk Management Plan for a while now,” said FWP Director Hank Worsech. “This is a great opportunity to participate in revising that plan. We can’t have a good plan without knowing what people want elk management and elk objectives to look like in Montana.”
Barrett, who served on the House and Senate Wildlife Committees, sponsored legislation in 2003 that mandated that the Fish & Game Commission use all management tools available in order to keep big game populations at objective levels. That legislation specified that the Commission should use “liberalized harvests, game damage hunts, landowner permits, (and) animal relocation” to reach objective.
However, Barrett says, that isn’t happening. “Wildlife managers have a statutory obligation to protect the rights of the minority by minimizing the damages they incur. That’s supposed to be accomplished by setting a target population objective developed through a calculation of what the habitat can sustain and what landowners can tolerate. After the objective is set, management policy is supposed to use all tools available to bring the population level in line with the objective.”
“The Commission has failed to follow the law,” Barrett writes. “and as a result they’ve created immense damage to individual ranchers. This problem has been building for decades, and it has finally come to a head with a lawsuit filed by ranchers seeking to compel the Commission to change their management practices.”
Information on current elk population objectives being considered for revision can be viewed here. In addition, FWP is hosting a series of public meetings this summer and fall to gather ideas and input. Meeting places, times and details are posted on the FWP website.
“If you’re interested in elk management in Montana, we need to hear from you on this,” Worsech said. “Please attend a meeting in your area, go online, read through the information and make comments.”
The deadline for public comment is Oct. 15. Comments can be submitted online, emailed to [email protected] or mailed to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Attn: Wildlife, P.O. Box 200701 Helena, MT 59620-0701.
Once the draft Elk Management Plan has been developed and released, there will be additional public comment opportunities.