Commissioners Change Hunting Regulations at Emotional Meeting

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – State hunting regulations underwent a few changes Thursday at a meeting where emotion ran high as people addressing wildlife commissioners talked about their hunting traditions.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission in February adopted a package of hunting regulations, a few of which drew blistering criticism and had Gov. Brian Schweitzer advocating reconsideration by commissioners.

By the end of their meeting Thursday, commissioners had loosened regulations for archery hunting in 23 districts that lie outside central Montana’s renowned Missouri Breaks. They also reversed an apparent error in the February regulations that some archers said restricted their access to part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana.

Commissioners received angry correspondence and phone calls after they approved the regulations on Feb. 20. They said they also heard from people satisfied with the package.

“The nasty letters aside, we will look out for their (sportsmen’s) interests and correct our mistakes to the extent that they’ve been made,” said Commissioner Shane Colton, participating by telephone in Thursday’s meeting.

“We made some flubs.”

But Colton said that making “great reversals” in the regulations, as advocated by some of the several dozen people at the meeting, would be inappropriate.

A regulation requiring that archery hunters of elk in the 23 districts obtain permits where previously none were needed remains in effect. An unlimited number of archery permits in those districts will be available, unlike rifle permits, which are limited.

The change came when commissioners decided that sportsmen who apply unsuccessfully for permits to hunt elk with rifles in those 23 districts still may get archery permits. Under the configuration passed last month, they had to choose whether to apply for rifle permits or the newly required archery permits.

Commissioners also decided Thursday that archery permits will not be required for hunting elk in a Bob Marshall area that lies within the state-designated Hunting District 441. Riflemen may hunt there without permits. Archers said requiring them to have permits would restrict their access unfairly.

Ron Newmiller of Conrad asked the commission to “take a look back down the road, for a moment, to our heritage.” He said a Bob Marshall hunting camp established by his grandfather in the 1950s has remained in the family’s use through several generations.

“Please don’t take any of my family time away” through regulations so restrictive they make it difficult for family members to go afield together, Newmiller said.

Commission Chairman Steve Doherty said after the meeting that he and some of Schweitzer’s staff had discussed concerns about the hunting regulations, but he did not talk to the governor. Asked whether Schweitzer’s weighing in on the controversy last week influenced the board, Doherty said, “The governor’s a citizen and his opinion obviously counts. So does everybody else’s.”

Also Thursday, commissioners decided that a nine-member committee to examine some aspects of hunting regulations will be established. That committee will be expected to deliver its findings to the commission this November. The findings will be examined to help determine whether 2009 hunting regulations need adjustment, the commission said.