Proposal For Elk Hunt Permits Outside Yellowstone Draws Outfitters’ Ire

Some Montana outfitters and hunters are up in arms over a proposal for the number of permits issued in a hunting district outside Yellowstone National Park.

Under the current proposal, only 75 permits would be issued to hunters for HD 313, which is just north of Yellowstone National Park and a popular migration route in winter for the Northern Range herd, heading out of the Park toward the Gardiner Basin. Hunting was previously closed in Deckard Falls (part of HD 313) after heavy snows earlier in November.

Although the announcement was made earlier in November, opponents of the proposal have gained traction in the meantime. The reasons vary, according to the Billings Gazette. One reason is economic, with hunters going as far as to proclaim in a Gardiner Chamber of Commerce newsletter that the 75-permit limit “will put us out of business. All the money we spend on gas, food, wages, and our hunters spend on motels, bars, restaurants and gifts will be lost to Gardiner.” From the Gazette:

In a report the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association prepared challenging Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ proposal, MOGA said the change could result in a $1.9 million hit to the economy of the area.

Yet Mac Minard, executive director of association, said the economy isn’t his main concern.

“We’re looking at this through the lens of conservation and opportunity,” he said.

Since 2012, hunting in HD 313 is limited to brow tined (elk whose antlers are branched, with visible points) bull elk, a limit put in place to preserve cow elk and younger “spike elk” whose antlers haven’t racked up any or as many characteristic points yet.

Livingston-based FWP wildlife biologist Karen Loveless says the reduction is for the benefit of herd stability. At last count, there are an estimated 2.7 bull elk per 100 cows in Montana, far below the ideal number of 10 to 100, a number that hasn’t been true of Montana elk since 2002. The FWP hopes keeping a limit on elk for HD 313 will expedite bull elk recovery. From the Gazette:

According to Loveless’ calculations, raising the permit reduction from 75 to 150 would mean it would take about five years for the bull numbers to recover, instead of two. The intent is to keep the limited draw only until the bull population rebounds, she said.

“It’s high profile in the state, nationally and in the world,” said John Vore, FWP’s Game Management Bureau chief. “These are Yellowstone elk. If we’re seeing the things we’re seeing, it’s time to take some steps to mediate that.”

Minard, meanwhile, says the FWP’s concerns are unfounded, citing calculations derived from the whole Northern Range herd, while the FWP used solely Montana elk numbers. Although Minard’s calculations also show a decline in bull elk across the population, he says hunters shouldn’t have to scramble for 75 spots in HD 313. From the Gazette:

“There’s nothing here that portends a catastrophic collapse of this herd,” Minard said. “And in fact it’s trending back.”

Outfitters also point to the fact that surveys can miss elk, that counts are done after bulls have lost their antlers and that the falling numbers could be because of changes in how the elk are migrating out of the park.

“No count is perfect,” said Dan Vermillion, a Fish and Wildlife commissioner from Livingston. “But what the department does is focus on the same basic methodology every year, and the trend in 313 is definitely concerning.”

Loveless has discussed her calculations with Minard and seen his calculations.

“Basically, they’re making the case that we’re not looking at the big picture data, and that’s unfounded,” she said.

Currently, MOGA is proposing the FWP limit hunting in HD 313 to six-point bulls and only allow hunters who draw a permit for the area. There will be a meeting tonight at the Pioneer Lodge, 1515 West Park Street, Livingston, Montana at 7 p.m. The Fish and Wildlife commission will look over the proposal December 10 before going up for public comment. The final decision on this proposal is expected in February.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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