MOGA bill would reduce permits for resident hunters

A group of outfitters is trying to wrest a few more game permits from the hands of Montana hunters.

On Tuesday, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association defended its bill, House Bill 568, to ensure that nonresident hunters always get 10 percent of the permits to hunt deer, elk, antelope, mountain lions and eventually black bears. Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, carried HB568, saying it would bring in additional money for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, because nonresident licenses cost more than those of residents. But White’s justification belies the fact that it takes permits away from residents.

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Digital hunting tags raise privacy questions

Montana's tribes may regain their licenses to hunt bison but Montana's hunters may have to solve privacy problems before gaining the right to have digital hunting tags.

In the Senate Fish and Wildlife Committee, Sen. Jennifer Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, learned her bill promoting digital game tags already faced an amendment because of privacy concerns.

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Early FWP bills address block management, fishing access funding

As the 65th Montana Legislature convenes on Monday, legislators have already proposed least two bills that would affect Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ shoestring budget.

After hours of hearings and counter proposals in 2015, the Legislature approved most of FWP’s proposed budget that had been developed by a working group of hunters, fishermen and outfitters. One of the major changes was having the budget cover four years, unlike previous versions that were mapped out over 10 years.

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Legislators oppose changes to wolf management, hatchery trout

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks requested state legislators’ blessings for a dozen proposed bills, but two dealing with wolves and trout didn’t get the nod.

On Thursday, FWP Director Jeff Hagener stepped the Environmental Quality Council through 12 bills that would either improve FWP procedures or help preserve a few species. But Hagener got an earful from Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, when he described a bill intended to allow the Fort Peck Hatchery to produce a few more cold-water fish.

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State Parks mistake prompts legislative audit request

Fish, Wildlife & Parks is scrambling to resolve a land issue that could threaten federal funding, but its efforts could now be delayed by a legislative audit.

FWP may need to come up with about $7 million, either in cash or property value, to trade for part of West Shore State Park, FWP Chief of Staff Paul Sihler told the legislative Environmental Quality Council on Wednesday. If that’s not possible, the department could lose as much as $27 million in federal Pittman-Robertson money, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

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Fed wildlife grants helpful but don't go far enough

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has received another grant of about $850,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for non-game wildlife conservation. But a blue-ribbon panel thinks state wildlife agencies need 20 times more.

On Monday, the USFWS announced that the State Wildlife Grant program would divvy almost $50 million between the states and territories of the U.S for use in 2016. The 16-year old matching-grant program is intended for conservation of primarily non-game wildlife and their habitat.

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Walleye planted illegally in Swan Lake

Bucket biologists have taken it upon themselves to plant walleye in Swan Lake. Fortunately, two fish were caught, and if the culprits are caught, they could end up paying a hefty fine.

Region 1 Fisheries Manager Mark Deleray said FWP biologists caught the walleye during gill-net sampling last week. Both measured about 17 inches long, and Deleray didn't know how long they'd been there or how many more might be in the lake.

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Elk hunting proposals breed confusion, distrust

Following the 2015 Legislature, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks hurried to launch some big projects. But a few proposals are similar enough that they have caused confusion for sportsmen, and that’s bred distrust.

The two most contentious proposals deal with Montana’s elk season, or rather the hunts that can be allowed outside the normal five-week season. For the past two months, FWP commissioners have received lots of calls about proposals dealing with shoulder seasons and game damage hunts.

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FWP hastens rule changes for game damage hunts

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks managers say they want public input on some elk-hunting rule changes, but they held comments to a minimum at two poorly advertised meetings.

During a Wednesday night videoconference, FWP landowner/sportsmen coordinator Alan Charles explained a number of changes that FWP managers want to make to administrative rules pertaining to game damage hunts. A similar videoconference was held Tuesday night for different FWP regions.

The changes were prompted by a June Legislative audit of FWP’s game damage hunt program, which found 11 deficiencies.

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New blood, ideas needed for Private Lands/Public Wildlife Council

Managing wildlife is challenging when animals roam onto land where biologists cannot follow. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks increasingly finds itself in that situation when dealing with wildlife and private property.

Often, the best way to find workable solutions is to bring the interested parties to the table. So Gov. Steve Bullock is seeking landowners, hunters, anglers, outfitters and others interested in wildlife issues who are interested in a 2-year appointment to the Private Lands/Public Wildlife Council.

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Bighorn lambs die along popular fishing stream

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a goal of establishing five new wild sheep herds by 2022. But it's struggling to maintain the herds it has in the face of disease carried by domestic sheep.

In recent years, a number of wild herds have suffered major die-offs over the course of a single year, as sheep succumb to pneumonia. Those that survive may have a certain level of immunity, but their lambs often die, possibly infected by their own parents. As a result, the herd slowly dwindles.

How useless a death then, when a healthy lamb is killed by a careless driver. That's happened repeatedly in the Rock Creek Canyon east of Missoula, where some homeowners and an increasing number of anglers and visitors - many from out of state - escape to the woods and the river.

It's a challenge for a wildlife agency that can do little more than put up caution signs.

Read more in my story here.