By Moira Blazi
On Wednesday Jan. 16, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department (FWP) held a public meet-ing at the Libby Memorial Center to discuss proposed changes in hunting season regulations, and specifically to hear public opinion on HD 103, a proposal seeking a new limited draw for ma-ture mule deer bucks in the Fisher River hunting dis-trict. The meeting was well attended with over 60 hunters.
Representatives from FWP at the meeting includ-ed Dillon Tabish, education program manager, Tonya Chilton-Radandt, wildlife biologist, Neil Anderson, field program manager, and Tim Aldrich, Region 1 Com-missioner.
In addition to HD 103, the FWP addressed over 30 proposals and initiatives, most of which were aimed at increasing quotas for various game animals. There were also multi-district proposals to close the hunting of mountain goats in most of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and a sister proposal which would make it illegal to take a female (nanny) mountain goat with a kid or a female in a group that contains one or more kids anywhere in the state.
Regarding elk hunting in the state numerous HDs covering Lincoln, Sanders, Mineral, Flathead and Lake Counties, would require a permit to hunt antlerless elk from a vehicle.
HD 109 and HD 101, covering Lincoln and Flat-head Counties, would aim to issue 50 antlerless elk permits to private land owners which allow them to harvest elk that are caus-ing loss and damage in their fields. This proposal drew comment from a Libby man who inquired if a list of property owners was avail-able to the public, to which commissioner Aldrich re-plied that the FWP would instead like to give a list of potential hunters to the property owners involved, and let them decide who to allow on their land.
Also of interest was HD100, covering Lincoln County only, which would increase the number of big horn sheep permits in the Kootenai Falls area. Chilton-Radandt informed the group that the FWP came to this decision after the suc-cessful re-introduction of 32 sheep from the wild horse area. She said that biologists estimate the size of the Kootenai Falls herd to be between 50-81 indi-viduals, and added that biologists typically see only about 75 % of the herd.
A proposal to legalize the use of crossbows in hunting turkey during the regular season was also discussed. This proposal prompted pubic response from Richard York, Al Kelly and Terry Kelly, who all opposed the proposal. York, a member of the Libby Ar-chery Club, expressed con-cern that allowing cross-bows during the regular rifle season would create a “foot in the door,” and po-tentially allow crossbow use to “slide into the regu-lar archery season.” Terry Kelly told the officials that that “for turkeys it would result in crossbow overkill.” There was also a pro-posal to allow some excep-tions to the state regulation prohibiting the sale of deer and elk urine in states with Chronic Wasting Disease, and a proposal to increase the age of pre-season youth hunting to 18.
Then the meeting turned to HD 103 and the assembled officials opened the floor to public com-ment. Biologist Chilton-Radandt outlined the pro-posal as a choice between two outcomes, either the FWP would maintain the status quo in the Fisher area, which is fairly open and allows access to all, or they would enact the citizen-led proposal to establish a portion of the area for per-mit holders to take a lim-ited number of mature bucks. She added, “Although the popular pro-posal is not officially en-dorsed by the FWP, they recognize the large amount of public support, and that if passed, it would require establishing a special man-agement district in the ar-ea.”
The harvest quota would be no more than 15 and there would be only 5 permits issued. The pur-pose of this proposal is to increase the doe/buck ratio and the age of bucks in the Fisher River area. She also said, ‘Although the general numbers of Mule Deer in the area are down, the FWP is not convinced that this proposal would increase their numbers but, the large amount of citizen interest is significant.”
The officials then opened the floor to public comment. The first com-ment from Larry Hilder-man, who expressed strong support for the proposal, saying he would like to see a “drastic decision” by the FWP. “Shame on you, for not doing something quick-er, he said, we need to let the bucks get older.” Libby resident Michael McCain told the group that he has seen many mature bucks in the area, and was opposed to the proposal because he wanted to maintain folks chances of taking a smaller Mule buck.
Taxidermist Jerry Mer-cer expressed support for the proposal, saying he sees the best of the hunt and has seen a big reduction in the number of older, mature mule bucks at his shop. He said there are plenty of oth-er areas where hunters can find younger bucks and that he wished to give the Fisher River bucks a “chance to grow up.”
Jay Moody, bow hunter Floyd White, Al Kelly, BJ Purdy and John Siefke all stepped up to express sup-port for the proposal, said Siefke,”Let’s let them little bucks get bigger, the people against this can hunt some-where else, there are lots of spots, and they can still hunt whitetail and elk there (in the Fisher River area).”
Speaking against the proposal was new hunter Dorian Bowling and her son. Dorian told the group she is new to hunting and loves it. She said that the Fisher River area offers greater accessibility to those with physical limita-tions than most other areas. Her teenage son added that he feels passage of this reg-ulation would limit his op-portunity for a successful hunt. Local resident Tom Erickson also stepped up in opposition saying he thinks “A lot of the people who support this (proposal) don’t hunt here, I think there are still a lot of deer there for young and old.”
Buck Smith, a self- pro-claimed “antler nut,” admit-ted he hunts for the trophy. “I want a bigger buck,” he said. He then added that he used to hunt in an area in Utah that enacted a similar proposal, and has seen an increase in big mature bucks. Scattered applause greeted him as he left the podium.
A young hunter then took the floor to remind the group that the Fisher area is unique in that it is natu-ral south slope open coun-try. He added that as a sportsman, “We have to do something so our kids will have something to hunt.” Another resident named Jessica spoke to this senti-ment saying she “..has hunter kids, and I want them to have ethics, that means not always taking the first buck you see.” Lo-cal businessman Mike Mun-ro then stepped up saying “the key word here is change, nobody likes change.” He continued by saying that this is really a road density issue, and that, folks used to hike to bag a big buck.
Finally, George Mercer, the author of the proposal reminded the group that Mule deer and Whitetail are different. He said the white-tail population has de-creased by 40% while the mule deer population saw a 71% decrease over the past 10 years. Also, according to recent surveys over 90% of mule deer bucks in the Fisher region are under three years old, and only 7 out of 100 are expected reach 8 and over.
Overall it was a well- attended, lively meeting with most of the impas-sioned, informed public comments leaning towards support of HD 103.
The FWP officials pre-sent offered no timeline as to when final decisions on HD103 and other proposals will be available.
By Moira Blazi