Tuesday, June 18, 2024

FWP deserves accolades for deer license reduction

Recently, Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently announced they were reducing hunting licenses for mule deer in a large swath of Central and Eastern Montana. This move was prompted by low spring counts, hard seasons over the last few years and increasingly stressed and declining deer populations.

Although this decision will result in a short-term decrease in hunting opportunities, it shows that FWP is putting the resource first. For that, the department deserves the thanks of Montana hunters.

We have never shied away from criticisms of the agency, but we also need to give credit where credit is due. Over the past year, various hunting organizations and citizens voiced concerns about mule deer numbers throughout the state. In this last legislative session, legislators introduced several bills aimed at reducing non-resident hunting licenses in an attempt to reduce crowding on public land and increase resident hunter success rates. One of the few bills that made it through was Senate Bill 281 from Senator Pat Flowers, D-Bozeman.

That bill directed FWP to implement a limit on non-resident antlerless deer licenses sold, with the policy set to take effect in 2024. Still, FWP has taken the intent to heart and has reduced antlerless harvest across the board, leading to fewer non-resident hunter days in Montana, less pressure on our game animals, and fewer trucks at the Block Management sign-in box and at your trailhead.

Mule deer populations are declining across the West and state wildlife management agencies are grappling with what needs to be done to halt the decline and preserve hunting opportunities for this iconic and deeply valued species. Mule deer need healthy, connected habitat and the opportunity to survive and rebound when tough winters and hunting pressure reduce populations to unsustainable levels. We’re grateful that the Department has listened to hunters and stepped up to address the trends we’ve all seen on the ground.

Undoubtedly, FWP’s decision will spark debates across Montana. However, given the current challenges facing the deer population, this is a welcome course correction. Montana’s hunters have helped restore and maintain wildlife populations across the United States and we’re happy to step up and reduce our impact at this point in time.

We also encourage FWP to use this opportunity to continue moving forward with the revamp of the mule deer plan that looks far into the future, like they’ve done with the elk management plan. With loss of habitat due to noxious weeds, drought and increased housing development and new challenges like Chronic Wasting Disease it’s time to check our plans and adapt to the changing western landscape.

We thank the department for responding to the concerns of mule deer hunters, landowners, outfitters and wildlife professionals across the state, and we stand committed to helping FWP restore the deer populations we love.

Jason O’Rear, vice president, Laurel Rod and Gun Club; Walker Conyngham, president, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers; Jim Vashro, president, Flathead Wildlife Inc.; Chris Marchion, Anaconda Sportsman’s Club; Frank Szollosi, executive director, Montana Wildlife Federation.