HELENA - The way we look at managing elk could be changing in the near future – but not before Fish, Wildlife and Parks gets your thoughts.
“We always ask the public for help on sensitive issues, we manage the resources for the public, so we want their input," FWP Special Projects Manager Deb O'Neill told MTN. "That’s why we have some many opportunities for public comment. But this was a little bit different.”
That different approach started with a call for applications from landowners, hunters, and anyone who is invested in elk management. That resulted in over 240 applications.
That number was whittled down to just a 12-member group who – following several meetings - developed recommendations for the possible future of FWP’s elk management plan. Under the focus of finding some new ways to reduce elk numbers, manage disease concerns, land access and perceived overcrowding hunting sites.
“We really wanted they [the advisory group] to come up with ideas on their own without any input from us whatsoever," said O'Neill. "So all I did when I managed this group was, sat there and coordinated the group. I was a resource for the group and answered questions, but this largely was all about them and their ideas. The only response that we had was, when we received the recommendations all we did was provide our response in terms of legality, capacity, financial issues, but largely this was all input from the public.”
Available on the FWP website, the recommendations range from expanded hunter education for improved hunter ethics to more of a focus on hunter, landowner relationships and conversation.
“This is a terrific first step, I think the director is to be credited," Montana Outfitters & Guides Association Executive Director Mac Minard said. "I think it took a lot of courage to put this group together. I think there was the typical, the expected reactions. But I think that when you get past that it opens the door for very positive communications that can lead us to a better elk management system.”
Minard was not involved in the working group but is intimately invested in their work as executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.
“The selection of the work group was designed to find some of the best and brightest and not necessarily pidgin hold by representative caucus or group," added Minard. "And I think that approach makes a tremendous amount of sense. We want people engaged in these types of discussions that can build personal relationships between themselves, have honest dialogue, come up with great ideas, that maybe they’ve garnered from other areas and be able to give that back-and-forth so people can seek to understand different opinions rather than projecting their own all the time, and I think that partly is what this group is successfully doing.”
The next step involves you. Public comments on all the groups recommendations are open until Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. You can find that on the FWP website along with breakdowns of all the 15 recommendations.
“The next step is for the public to provide comments," added O'Neill. "The workgroup actually asked for more robust public involvement in these recommendations before we [FWP] did anything with them. So the workgroup asked for us to engage the public more. So the public comment period is open until October 14, and we just encourage the public to comment on the recommendations. What you like, what you don’t like and just let us know what you think. This is all about public hunting opportunities and giving the public hopefully what they are looking for. This group, while a cross-section of the public, it was still only 12 members, we need to hear from the public at large. “
Remember, elk are all of ours here in Montana. So make sure you make your voice heard.