tion for damaging private property, ….
tion for damaging private property, as allowing access to guests, family, friends, neighbors, church members, guides, and other acquaintances is not considered âpublic hunting.ââ In addition to asking the court to invalidate the elk hunting regulations the commission adopted this winter, UPOM is asking the court to deem the commissionâs role in wildlife management an unconstitutional delegation of policy-setting powers that properly belong with the Legislature, not the commission.
Denowh said the lawsuit is still in its early stages and he doesnât anticipate a ruling anytime soon.
Cow Elk Numbers, Bull Elk Hunts The number of parties hashing out elk management in the UPOM lawsuit grew recently when Judge Perry approved a request by hunting and access groups to intervene in the matter. The Montana Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Montana Bowhunters Association, Public Land and Water Access Association, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Helena Hunters and Anglers, and Skyline Sportsmenâs Association had argued that FWP and the commission wonât protect their interests and that UPOM misrepresented its real reason for filing the lawsuit.
âWhat plaintiff truly seeks is unilateral control and dominion over the elk which âtrespassâ across their land,â according to the groupsâ motion to intervene. âPlaintiff uses this suit as a subterfuge to gain the ability to use, sell, transfer, and otherwise control licensing for the killing of trophy bull elk â the market cost of which is upwards of $10,000.â
(Denowh disputes this characterization. Although some UPOM members run outfitting businesses themselves or lease their land to outfitters, most would rather ranch exclusively rather than devote time to the âpeople management businessâ that comes with commercial hunting, he said.)
The commercial value of bull elk tags also surfaced in MTFPâs conversation with the Montana Wildlife Federationâs Serveen, who argued that FWP and the commission could meet population objectives in short order if they focused on shrinking the reproductive segment of the elk population. But he said landowners and outfitters who lease property from landowners have little appetite for that approach because few clients paying for outfitted hunts are interested in hunting cow elk.
Serveen also said thereâs a relationship between units that are exceeding population targets â largely in central and eastern Montana â and land ownership. Most of the units that are well over objective are dominated by private ownership, he said.
âThe best way to reduce numbers in places where thereâs an awful lot of elk is to shoot cows [and] allow hunter access so they can get at those cows,â he said. A Council, Two Coalitions, A Plan And A Petition: Whatâs Next For Elk Management The Fergus County lawsuit isnât the only moving part in the current elk management conversation. While the court has been considering the departmentâs statutory responsibilities, FWP has been drafting a replacement for the stateâs 17-year-old elk management plan and hosting a series of listening sessions around the state.
FWP also convened an advisory council after last winterâs contentious season-setting process. A suite of elk management proposals Worsech brought to the commission in December unleashed such a âfirestormâ of public comment that he walked back several of them and pledged to convene an advisory council to increase transparency and involve more stakeholders in FWPâs decision-making.
More than 200 people applied to participate on the council, which was overseen by a moderator and tasked with moving past old debates and revisiting âold issues with fresh eyes.â FWP selected 12 participants from around the state. They met 10 times over Zoom during a five-month period to develop a list of recommendations to forward to the department. FWP has evaluated the proposalsâ legality, staffing needs and funding requirements and expects to release them for public comment within the next week, according to FWP Special Projects Manager Deb OâNeill.
Another recently convened group also owes its formation to elk management controversies.
Last spring, the Montana Citizensâ Elk Management Coalition came together out of concern that âpolitical opportunismâ is threatening long-held traditions by vesting increasing power in politicians who may be inclined to shortchange the experience of Montanans who spend months hunting, fishing and exploring public land every year in favor of policies forwarded by think tanks seeking what the coalition describes as ânew ways to make Montana more like Texas, where wildlife is a commodity and not part of the public trust.â
The coalition includes a dozen sporting, conservation and access groups. On Aug. 13 it hosted a daylong symposium in Bozeman, where about 100 people gathered to listen as lawmakers, national hunting personalities and wildlife managers from Montana and other states waded into some of elk managementâs thornier issues. One of the insights that came out of that symposium is that despite a robust elk population, more and more Montana public land hunters are failing to fill their tags relative to neighboring states. A 2014 FWP report found that just 14% of public land hunters filled their elk tags.
Montana Wildlife Federation is one of the groups that helped organize the symposium. Marcus Strange, the organizationâs state policy and government relations director, said the symposium was part of the coalitionâs larger effort to spark discussions about elk management âearly and oftenâ so Montanans arenât caught flat-footed when the 2023 Legislature gavels in and wildlife management bills start surfacing at the Capitol.
Strange described the symposium as the groupâs most significant effort to date, and said a report synthesizing its takeaways will be available this fall. He said he hopes the groupâs concerns are reflected in the stateâs elk management plan rewrite, which is currently in the public scoping phase. A draft of that plan is expected in fall 2023.
In the meantime, a new group called the Montana Public Trust Coalition is urging legislative candidates to sign its âMontana Public Trust Promise.â Signatories vow to reject any efforts to reduce public land or turn public waters, fish and wildlife into private property, and to âprotect and defend Montanaâs Constitution, particularly our right to hunt and fish and our right to a clean and healthful environment.â
The Montana Public Trust Coalition website went live over Labor Day weekend. Supporters include former governors Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and Marc Racicot, a Republican. Former Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown, nine former fish and wildlife commissioners and 10 members of the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame also support the coalition.
Coalition member Andrew Posewitz told the Missoula Current that the website seeks to both put lawmakers on notice that Montanans are scrutinizing their actions at the Capitol and identify which legislative candidates have promised to protect the public trust and support the stateâs hunting and fishing heritage. He said itâs critical that Montanans pay attention and remain engaged.
âIf you havenât lost enough, you donât pay attention. And some people arenât aware of how much weâve already lost.â
For his part, Serveen is holding out hope that the various efforts that have been organized around elk management will point the state toward âa more sustainable path on elk managementâ emphasizing âthe equitable management of elk for all.â
âIf we erode the idea that the elk belong to the public and we get into the slippery slope of saying that elk belong to the landowners where the elk are, then weâve lost the whole North American model,â he said. âWeâre going back to the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, in which the king owns all of the wildlife and the rest of us are stuck with whatâs left. And I sure hope we donât.â