Elk hunting is everything for the Montanais. We jealously guard our vacation days in anticipation of the elk camp deep in the forests or the land of Breaks. We choose our sick days wisely and work hard for the chance to harvest an elk. Elk hunting is where our families create memories and traditions while hoping to fill the freezer for the winter to come. Even our clothes reflect our love of elk hunting on public lands. Unfortunately, these traditions risk changing forever or, in some cases, disappearing forever.
Private lands change hands, access to prime hunting lands becomes more difficult, and elk congregate where they know they are safe. Meanwhile, a hunter on public lands in Montana has about a 13% chance of putting a bull elk in a freezer, and according to FWP data, a district in northwest Montana takes more than 530 hunter days to harvest. a single elk. Six months of constant pressure from hunters, more barriers and no sign of trespassing than ever before, changing habitat, increased development of the wintering area and monetization of the resource have created quite a difficult situation.
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Complicating the problem further is the fact that our wildlife – as Montana’s constitution guarantees – is publicly owned and their management must be a shared responsibility. They should not be owned and sold by private interests.
Dramatic changes in the management of elk worry the Montanians. But, unfortunately, in addition to all the other factors, political expediency impacting our management of wildlife has become standard operating procedure of the legislature. Since 2011, 489 bills have been tabled on wildlife issues and 906 bills have been drafted. This does not count budget bills that would fund wildlife management or habitat work, laws that threatened public lands, bills that tried to eliminate the voice of citizens in management decisions. while amplifying the power of the unelected politicians and bureaucrats who are accountable to them.
As we saw in the last legislative session, politicians continue to think they know better than the Montanais who spend months in the open air hunting, fishing and exploring our public lands. Think tanks spend countless hours and countless dollars finding new ways to make Montana much like Texas, where wildlife is a commodity and not part of the public trust. This is not the Montana way. Conflict and anger may be powerful political mottos of our time, but it doesn’t have to be, at least not for the elk of Montana.
For over 150 years, Montanais have worked together to find consensual avenues that preserve public trust and ensure that future generations of Montanais will have the same opportunities to fill their freezers. While some elected leaders may benefit from conflict, we believe that most Montanais have had enough; it’s time to sit down together, free from the interference of narrow and wealthy politicians and interests, and find a better way forward.
Our management of elk must once again be used by all Montanais, not just the rich. We don’t expect elk hunting to be an easy day. Like so many things in life, the Montanais know that we will have to earn it. But our opportunity must always remain. Help us keep it that way. To make sure our voices – and your voice – are heard, we are forming a coalition to develop a citizen elk management proposal. To learn more and get involved in this effort, visit www.montanaelk.org.
Strange Marcus, Director of State Policy and Government Relations Montana Wildlife Federation, Helena
Garrett ouldhouse, President Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club, Anaconda
Jeremy Garness, President Great Falls Archery Club, Great Falls
Nick siebrase, Conservation Director Bearpaw Bowmen, Havre
Justin schaaf, President Keep It Public
Jw westman, Curatorial Director Laurel Rod & Gun Club, Laurel
Bill Siebrase, President Bridger Bowmen, Bozeman
John B. Sullivan III, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Missoula
Kathy hadley Alliance Artemis of Montana, Missoula
Jim vashro, President Flathead Wildlife Inc., Kalispell
Andrew McKean, former Glasgow Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, MT
The Castren, President Skyline Sportsmen’s Association, Butte
Joey bauman, President Park County Rod and Gun Club, Livingston
Walker conyngham, President Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Missoula
Tony jones, President of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Hamilton
Steve platt, President Helena Hunters and Anglers, Helena
Danish Horseman, Secretary of the Traditional Bow Hunters of Montana, Dillon
Clint nagel, President Gallatin Wildlife Association, Bozeman