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 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.
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.
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: