Fixing Elk Management

Elk management in Montana is broken.  The most recent elk population counts show a disturbing trend of Montana’s elk herd increasing to crisis levels in many areas of the state. Three quarters of Montana’s hunting districts have an elk population above the sustainable population objective set by the Montana Fish & Game Commission, with over thirty districts at more than double the objective number.

The statewide elk objective is 92,138 animals. The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks estimates there were 170,000 elk in Montana in 2020. Montana law requires that FWP manage elk populations in a way that reaches sustainable population objectives. For over a decade they’ve failed to meet that statutory requirement.

THE COMMISSION WANTS TO HEAR FROM LANDOWNERS

The Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission has asked landowners to weigh in with them on elk management as they consider changes to the statewide Elk Management Plan. Use the link below to send your comments to the five Commissioners. 

  • What problems have you experienced due to increasing elk numbers?
  • How have these problems evolved in recent years?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve elk management?

Click here to
Email the Commission


The State of elk populations

Elk populations are chronically over objective in most hunting districts around the state.  The 2020 Elk Counts put statewide population around 170,000 animals.  Populations are over objective in 77 of the 105 districts counted.  The statewide elk population has increased by about 25% since the inception of the current Elk Management Plan in 2004.

The chart below shows how close to objective different districts are around the state.  Those districts that are furthest from objective levels are the districts where the Commission has imposed a limited permit draw.

Recommended Solutions

Existing management practices clearly are not working.  New solutions are needed to bring populations in line with objective levels.  The Rural Montanan Foundation produced a comprehensive report on elk management, which concluded with the following recommended solutions:

  1. Eliminate limited permits for archery and liberalize rifle permits in districts that are over population objectives.
  2. Adopt more flexible season setting to increase hunting pressure in areas that are over-objective.
  3. Provide alternatives to the general hunting season for landowners in areas with chronically over-objective elk populations.
  4. Implement a publicly-funded, disease risk-transfer tool to mitigate financial risk faced by landowners who provide elk habitat.
  5. Expand testing for CWD, with aggressive testing efforts by FWP in areas where CWD has been detected.
  6. Eliminate policy of granting game damage assistance only to landowners who give up control of access to their property.
  7. Prioritize game damage assistance for landowners in areas with over-objective populations.
  8. Liberalize kill permits for landowners who are suffering inordinate game damage.
  9. More aggressively relocate problem elk from private property.
  10. Increase the amount of the Unlocking Public Lands Program tax credit.
  11. Prioritize opportunities for land transfers with private landowners.
  12. Increase landowner payments for block management.
  13. Establish a wildlife-use agreement program to “rent” ranches for public hunting.
  14. Implement transferable big-game permits for landowners in exchange for free hunting access.
  15. Increase transparency and base decision-making on objective standards.
  16. Require population objectives to be met before considering hunt quality or trophy opportunity.
  17. Increase flexibility in season setting.
  18. Utilize a liberal general hunting season, with damage and late-season hunts as a last resort.
  19. More aggressively manage predators to re-establish historic elk ranges and migration patterns.

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