Montana’s wildlife agency has closed Hunting District 313 (HD 313), a popular elk corridor adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.
Indeed, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Karen Loveless, the closure comes after she saw approximately 1,000 elk in Deckard Flats, which led FWP officials to believe weather was pushing elk north out of the park.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the closure is meant to ensure more elk make it through the region. “We wanted to make sure and put that closure in place before we have a really big take of bulls,” Loveless told the Chronicle. “We’re right at the very beginning of the big migration.”
The closure covers the southern portion of 313, which is fairly open and level. Further, the closure will last through Sunday, which, according to the Chronicle, “blots out” the five remaining days for general license hunters. From the Chronicle:
But some locals are bristling over the closure. Susan Johnson, of Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters, which is based inside the closure area, said it eliminates the most easily accessible hunting there. The area in the district that remains open is steep and rugged, she said, and it’s hard to hunt without a horse.
“If you don’t have a strong horse, you’re probably not going to get an elk,” she said.
The elk in hunting district 313 have been the center of controversy in recent years. In 2015, after documenting a decline in the number of large bull elk, FWP proposed limiting the district to a small number of permitted hunters.
An uproar from outfitters scuttled the original proposal. Instead, in 2016, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission limited hunting for general license holders to the first three weeks of general rifle season. Starting Nov. 13, the district is limited to 50 hunters with special permits.
That regulation change also gave FWP the authority to implement an emergency closure in this part of the district during a large migration.
“We wanted to make sure that if we had a weather event like this one … that we had the ability to respond,” said Dan Vermillion, the chair of the commission.
In addition to monitoring HD 313, the Montana FWP has also been looking at how to expand elk habitat adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Indeed, in recent years, Montana has seen more and more elk migrating out of Yellowstone’s boundaries.
This summer, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to try and purchase over 5,000 acres of land adjacent to the Dome Mountain Wilderness Management Area. We also reported that Kinross Gold Inc. had agreed to a 549 acre conservation easement in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Trout Unlimited on land near the former Mineral Hill Mine.
Late last month, the state of Montana announced they were close to finalizing a deal for approximately 600 acres of land near the Yellowstone River along Slip and Slide Creek, which would provide additional space for elk.
In the meantime, Loveless says closures like this one are necessary to ensure the agency can “sustain the season down [in HD 313].”