By Tracy McNew
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Commission met on Thursday, Feb. 15 in Helena. During their meeting, they voted on and subsequently passed a change that will effect Libby-area hunters.
FWP divides hunting areas into regions and then into districts which are identified by numbers on the map to the right. Previously there were four hunting districts (HDs) in Lincoln County HDs 100, 101, 103 and 104.
Until last week, there were no special permit areas in Lincoln County. The closest full permit area was 130-50 which is over 180 miles away from Libby. Now, a portion encompassing 132,275 acres (~24%) of HD 103 will be called HD 103-50.
The newly designated HD 103-50 area has become a mule deer permit area. During the 2018 deer hunting season, only five permits for mule deer buck will be issued to hunt this area.
Sportsman interested in obtaining one of the permits will need to apply by March 15 of this year for fall’s hunting season. For those who do receive a permit, it will be valid in HD 103-50 only, and permit holders will not be allowed to hunt mule deer buck in any other HD. Permits will only be valid with a general deer license.
In future years, there will be between 1-15 permits issued. The number will be decided by local FWP biologists.
Anyone without a permit caught harvesting mule deer buck during this year’s season will be subject to disciplinary action.
The group of supporters who put together the proposal worked for approximately 16 months toward this goal, but not everyone was in support of it. The new regulation comes after sig-nificant debate and expression of strong opinions on both sides.
Those in favor cited over 700 local sportsman supporting the permit area based on verbal comments received, letters written to FWP commissioners, online public comments submitted, and signed form letters which were given to FWP with the permit area proposal.
The group’s reasons for requesting the permit area was three fold. They intended to increase the post hunting season buck to doe ratio to at least 40 bucks per 100 does. They also intended to increase the age structure of harvested bucks so that a minimum of 40% of bucks harvested in the permit area are at least four years old. Lastly, they wanted a permit area in closer proximity to Libby.
Those who disagreed with the permit area proposal started a petition of their own. They cited increased hunting pressure in other nearby areas, displacement of hunters who traditionally hunt in the area, and lack of evidence supporting a biological need for the permit area as reasons why it should not be implemented.
Local FWP biologist Tonya Chilton-Radandt stated in an email to The Montanian in December, “The biological information FWP has does not support moving towards limited permits in HD 103.”
The proposal was opened for public comment and received over 200 comments online with about 60% of them in support of the permit area. When the proposal passed, FWP’s region 1 commissioner, Tim Aldridge, stated that he believes there are 700 sportsman who supported it.
One of the supporters who requested to remain anonymous stated “We are fully committed to aiding the department in future outreach to make sure that other sportsmen know of the regulation change. We also plan to work with our local game wardens to aid them in any way we can.”