Proposed mule deer permit area, the opposing view

By Tracy McNew

Libby’s Dorian Boling has been a vocal opponent of the proposed mule deer permit area in hunting district 103 since she found out about it.

In an interview with the Montanian on Friday, Dec. 8 she shared photos of many mule deer she has photographed in the proposed permit area as well as one that she shot there herself during hunting season.

Dorian said that she is pretty new to mule deer hunting, but that she only hunts in the proposed permit area.

“I am a 100% disabled vet” she said. “The area is easy to access and offers good hunting opportunities for those that can’t hike long distances through rugged terrain. Closing it would take away opportunities from a lot of hunters.”

Boling started a petition that she said had been going for two and a half weeks. It can be signed at the Libby dollar store, and she plans to keep it going until an upcoming meeting with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) that is scheduled for January 16.

The proposed mule deer permit area was passed by the Fish and Game Commission at their meeting last Thursday in Helena, so it will now enter a public comment period. Public comments will be open across the state until January 24 according to Boling, and a local public meeting hosted by FWP is planned prior to the end of the comment period.

The commission was provided with ample information to make an informed decision about the permit area. According to FWP Biologist Tonya Chilton-Radandt they received survey information from survey flights in the Fisher River area, hunter harvest information, check station data, public survey information, and information about the new mule deer research project that will be starting in the area.

George Mercer, a spokesperson for the group proposing the mule deer permit area said “We are excited to move our proposal forward to public comment. This is standard process and it will give everyone a chance to say what they want to about the proposal.”

Mercer went on to clarify that although the proposal has been moved forward to public comment, it has not  been accepted or approved at this time.

Dispite the commission’s decision to move the proposal forward, Chilton-Radandt stated in an email to The Montanian that “Overall, changes to limit buck harvest, like this permit proposal recommends, are unlikely to result in a positive change in population trend for mule deer.”

She went on to say that “FWP believes that too many other variables impact populations, including changes to habitat, competition with other species (like white-tailed deer), predation, and environmental conditions. The biological information.”

“FWP has does not support moving towards limited permits in hunting district 103,” she concluded.

One of Chilton-Radandt’s concerns about the proposal is interference with the mule deer research project that has been planned for decades but is just beginning.

30 collars are being deployed on mule deer in the Fisher starting this week, and other mule deer in the district are also being collared.

The study hopes to better understand population trends and habitats of mule deer.  Chilton-Radandt’s email said a new permit area “could add confounding factors that would need to be addressed” in the study.

“And it is difficult to identify those factors without including at least 1 or 2 years of ‘baseline’ data, or data taken during our current season structure (5-week antlered buck season)” she said.

Chilton-Radandt also shared 2011 public survey data with The Montanian. The surveys indicated that most hunters preferred to maintain hunting opportunities over limiting ability to harvest a trophy class mule deer buck.

Specifically, 71% wanted to maintain opportunities to hunt mule deer bucks every year.  59% supported maintaining consistent regulations across the hunting region, and 68% expressed neutrality or approval of the current hutting regulations in the region.

Despite FWP’s lack of data to support the proposed mule deer permit area, Mercer and his group remain positive.

“It’s been great to work with FWP, they’ve been friendly, and we’re thankful that our five state commissioners voted in favor of moving our proposal forward. We’ve spent 12 months working on this and we will continue to work on it.” said Mercer.