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State commission OKs elk hunting access agreements

by The Western News
| June 23, 2023 7:00 AM

This hunting season, two Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks programs will open up access to more than a million acres of private and inaccessible or under accessible public land.

At its meeting on June 8, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved 49 Elk Hunting Access Agreement (EHA) applications, which will allow access to a half million acres of private land.

In addition to this, in 2023 FWP staff worked with landowners to open up 540,000 acres of inaccessible or under accessible public land through the Public Access Land Agreement (PALA) program. At its June 1 meeting, the Private Land/Public Wildlife Advisory Committee recommended 66 projects to move forward.

“FWP staff continues to work with landowners to provide access to hunters,” said FWP Director Dustin Temple. “We are happy to see these programs grow and embraced by landowners across the state.”

EHA agreements provide landowners with an opportunity to obtain an elk license, permit or combination thereof in exchange for allowing free public hunting access to a minimum of three public hunters – one of which may be selected by the landowner.

The public hunter slots for three agreements in Region 4 and Region 5 will be offered in a random-draw opportunity with public sign-up taking place from June 15 to July 15 because there’s no specific elk B license for those districts. The remaining public hunter slots will be offered to hunters successful in the elk B license or either-sex elk permit draws in the order they were drawn.

The EHA program is increasing in popularity with landowners and hunters alike. In 2022, the commission approved 34 EHA agreements with 41 licenses/permits being issued to landowners (or their qualifying designees) allowing for free public access on 376,504 acres and resulting in at least 285 elk harvested (47 bulls and 238 antlerless).

Through the PALA program, FWP works with willing private landowners to improve or secure public access to inaccessible public land on an annual basis. Landowners are eligible for a payment as well as potential reimbursement for improvements to facilitate public access to public land. 

The PALA projects will be posted in early July on FWP's Hunt Planner map. Some projects are open only for the hunting season, while others are open year-round for all types of recreation.

Using the map, the public can view site-specific information on when access is provided, what activities are allowed, permission requirements, open road access routes and other rules associated with the project sites. Go to FWP's Hunt Planner map, click on the customize map tool in the top right corner (mule deer icon) and then choose “Other Access Opportunities.” 

The EHA and PALA programs are among a suite of private land access programs administered by FWP, including the Block Management Program through which cooperators receive impact payments for allowing hunting on more than 7 million acres of private and inaccessible or under accessible public lands.

To learn more visit: fwp.mt.gov/conservation/landowner-programs.