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Mule deer permit area gets green light

by Benjamin Kibbey Western News
| February 19, 2018 5:45 PM

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Feb. 15 approved a new limited draw for mule deer in a section of Hunting District 103 a few miles east of Libby.

The move to create the 132,275 acre section along the Fisher River was spearheaded by hunters from the Libby area. The group’s proposal, submitted to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in December 2017, was endorsed by 454 hunters and several local elected officials.

One group that opposed it, however, was FWP.

“We know that most hunters in Montana want opportunity over trophy management,” said Game Management Bureau Chief John Vore.

That was the primary reason FWP opposed the proposal, he said.

The permit area is intended to increase the number of bucks and their age by limiting harvesting. It shows an annual average of 15 mule deer bucks harvested from the area from 2006 to 2015. Five permits will be issued each year.

The proposal’s objectives include increasing the age of mule deer bucks and increasing the doe-buck ratio. However, the primary intent is to create a permit area near Libby. Currently the closest full permit area is 180 miles away.

The proposal also notes that the section is 5.7 percent of the huntable mule deer acreage surrounding Libby.

Vore said FWP has a multi-year research project examining the mule deer population. FWP is concerned the permit area could interfere.

Even if the number of mule deer bucks increases, it will not affect the population where it counts, Vore said.

“It’s the does that have babies, and if the babies don’t survive, then your population probably isn’t going to grow, and that’s probably what’s going on,” Vore said.

Vore said that FWP is also concerned given the proximity of known deer populations in Alberta and north central Montana that are infected with chronic wasting disease. The FWP estimates bucks are 2-3 times more likely to become infected with and spread the disease.

Managing for younger and fewer bucks lowers the risk should CWD reach the area, Vore said. However, there have been no recorded cases of CWD in the immediate area.

Vore said that while the normal distance mule deer in the section typically range will not be known until research is complete, the area is small enough that deer may range into and out of the area. If that happens, it could negate the desired effect.

For now, the mule deer population research will continue, Vore said.

“We want to find out what’s influencing doe survival, and particularly what’s going on with fawn production and fawn survival,” he said.

Habitats, competition with whitetail deer — which are thriving — and even predators could be factors, but hunters are not likely a significant factor, he said.

The new permit area will take effect this year. Applications will be due March 15. Maps will be available at FWP’s office in Kalispell and online at fwp.mt.gov under “Hunt Planner.”