Elk near subdivision in Bozeman

Debby Barrett: It’s time for FWP to follow the law on elk management

Montana’s elk population has tripled over the last 40 years.  For decades we have exceeded the sustainable objective levels in most hunting districts.  FWP’s goal is 92,000 elk in Montana, but today there are an estimated 175,000.  That excess elk population causes immense damage to family ranch operations in overpopulated areas, and it’s a problem that grows worse every year. What’s frustrating is we saw this problem coming years ago and set policy to address it.  In 2003 I sponsored House Bill 42, which mandated that the Montana Fish & Game Commission use all management tools available in order to keep big game populations at objective levels.  That legislation specified that the Commission should use “liberalized harvests, game damage hunts, landowner...

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Debunking the elk privatization myth

In a recent opinion piece, state legislators Tom France and Pat Flowers try to make the case that Governor Gianforte is planning to “privatize” Montana’s elk herds at the behest of greedy ranchers. In a bizarre twist of logic, the foundation of their thesis is the fact that those same ranchers are suing the Gianforte administration for improper elk management. Even if their narrative quickly unravels under scrutiny, it deserves a response. France and Flowers know perfectly well that no governor can privatize elk. Commercial elk farms were banned in Montana with the passage of I-143 in 2000. Elk, like all wildlife, are a public resource managed by government trustees for the benefit of all. In Montana, no one can own elk—this is not in dispute. The lawsuit brought against the state...

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elk-objectives

Why we’re suing to fix elk management

In a few areas of the state elk populations have been allowed to grow to crisis proportions. For example, in hunting district 417 in Fergus County, the elk population is estimated at 4,300 animals—that’s eleven and a half times more than the sustainable population objective set by state wildlife biologists. Excessive elk populations have caused an untenable hardship for the ranchers who provide habitat. This is an area suffering from extreme drought, grasshoppers, and wildfire in recent years. Many cattle producers last year reduced their mother cow herds by 25 percent or more. BLM has notified ranchers in this area of a 30 percent reduction in AUMs for this year due to a shortage of grass. These difficulties are compounded by elk populations grown wildly beyond what is considered...

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Updated elk population counts underscore importance of improving management

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. “This has been the trend for years—the elk population continues to grow far beyond what the biologists estimate as a healthy, sustainable level,” said Chuck Denowh, the policy director of United Property Owners of Montana. “Today we are at nearly double the number of elk that we should have in Montana.”

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