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FWP weighs changes to hunting regulations

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | September 28, 2021 7:00 AM

After fielding complaints about the complexity of the state’s hunting regulations, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public input on plans to reduce the amount of hunting districts, license and permit types for the 2022-2023 season. Dillion Tabish, FWP Region 1 information and education program manager, said the changes were part of a thinning process the department undertakes every two years. While the changes have not entered a formal comment period yet, Tabish encouraged hunters and residents to submit input or contact FWP wildlife biologists.

Among the most controversial draft changes is a proposal to eliminate the limited draw permit for mule deer in the northeastern portion of Hunting District 103.

Tabish said hunters had succeeded a few years ago in petitioning the department’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to establish the draw. But FWP officials say parceling the district has proven confusing to hunters and is unnecessary from a biological standpoint.

“We genuinely want to hear from hunters,” said Tabish. “If the public says no we want it, we’ll say OK.”

Along with eliminating the limited draw permit, FWP officials are looking to consolidate hunting districts 103 and 102. The resulting merger would be known as Hunting District 103.

FWP officials are proposing to consolidate hunting districts 101 and 109, which include areas of northern Lincoln and Flathead counties. The new district would be identified as Hunting District 101. The antlerless elk shoulder season in Hunting District 101 would reflect a new district number.

State officials are looking to change the boundary between hunting districts 103 and 101 to make it easier for hunters to identify.

The updated regulations would retain the three-week general, two-week limited permit mule deer regulation for the new Hunting District 101. Officials say it allows for consistent mule deer management in the district and will reduce hunting pressure on mule deer bucks. The revision, however, is likely to leave hunters divided, according to the state’s draft changes.

More broadly within FWP Region 1, the area that covers districts in northwest Montana, state officials are suggesting three changes to deer and elk regulations. The revisions would bar hunters with permits to hunt from a vehicle from harvesting antlerless elk, change all antlerless elk permits to antlerless elk licenses and remove the antlerless white-tailed deer opportunity on private properties during the

last week of the general season.

In comments on the draft, officials said the existing arrangement allowing for the hunting of antlerless elk from a vehicle proved confusing for applicants. Around 60 percent of people who apply do not have a permit to hunt from a vehicle and the current regulations have proven hard for FWP staff to enforce.

A permit to hunt from a vehicle allows people with certain disabilities certified by a doctor, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant or chiropractor to hunt from a self-propelled or drawn vehicle.

Statewide, officials are interested to hear from hunters on the length, timing and transitions in deer and elk seasons. FWP is seeking input on imposing restrictions on bull elk permit holders.

The proposed regulations also include a change in the spring turkey season. Rather than running from the second Saturday in April to the third Sunday in May, the season would stretch from April 15 to May 31. The later season could allow hunters to access terrain otherwise blocked by snow or poor road conditions earlier in the spring.

FWP will solicit comments from Sept. 21 to Oct. 20. From Oct. 21 to Dec. 13, officials will adjust the draft regulations based on public feedback. On Dec. 14, the Fish and Wildlife Commission will determine what proposals will enter another 30-day comment period. The commission will adopt final regulations in early February.

While posts have circulated on social media about in-person opportunities for public input, Tabish said FWP would not be holding meetings for this initial comment period. The department decided that the risk of holding gatherings while Montana’s health care workers were overwhelmed by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases was too great.

Hunters can submit commits on the FWP website, via email at fwpwld@mt.gov or by mail at P.O. Box 200701, Helena MT 59620.

Tabish also encouraged residents to reach out to Tonya Chilton-Radandt, FWP wildlife biologist for the Libby area, at 293-4161, ext 209.