HELENA – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking public comment on several proposals slated to go to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in August. Under the new commission process, FWP is taking public comment on these proposals now and will present the collected comments and proposals to the commission for their review and decisions on Aug. 25. Commissioners can offer amendments to the proposals as they see fit. The proposals and supporting documents, commissioner amendments and collected public comment will be available on the FWP website two weeks prior to the commission meeting.

The commission will make a final decision on these proposals at its Aug. 25 meeting.

To comment and for more information on these proposals, go online to https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/commission/meeting

Fall 2022–Winter 2023 Furbearer and Wolf Trapping and Hunting Seasons and Quotas

The department recommends the commission adopt the furbearer and wolf trapping and hunting regulations as presented. Below are the proposed changes to the regulations adopted last year.

  • Recommend reducing the quota for bobcat within Trapping District (TD) 1 from 275 to 225.
  • Recommend reducing the quota for bobcat within TD 5 from 200 to 100.
  • Recommend including the opportunity to purchase a C-4 license to hunt bobcats as established by SB 60 from the 2021 legislative session. A hunter that purchases a C-4 license to hunt bobcat may harvest the per person limit under the one C-4 license. (A hunter does not need to purchase multiple C-4 licenses to harvest more than one bobcat).
  • Recommend reinstating the requirement that trappers are required to personally present the pelts of marten for tagging to a designated FWP employee within 10 days after the close of the season (see attached for specific language).
  • Recommend amending the commission regulation on pelt possession by fur dealer license holders to include tagged marten pelts (see attached for specific language).
  • Recommend eliminating all wolf management units (WMUs), except for combining former WMUs 313 and 316 into a new WMU 313.
  • Recommend establishing a harvest quota of 10 wolves in total for trapping and hunting in WMU 313.
  • If a quota is instituted and when a season quota is reached, the trapping and hunting season will close upon a 24-hour notice, but no later than March 15, 2023.
  • Recommend establishing a total quota of 100 wolves to be authorized by the commission in increments of 25 in accordance with MCA 87-1-901 section 3(c), commonly known as SB 200.
  • Recommend managing wolf harvest primarily by trapping district.
  • Recommend maintaining the floating start date for wolf trapping within the identical described area last year, except within trapping districts or portions of trapping districts (rather than wolf management units) in or near occupied grizzly bear habitat. Unchanged are recommendations for thresholds as approved by the commission in 2021, with the only exception being that the threshold for total harvest and harvest in TD 3 excludes those wolves harvested within WMU 313.

Pheasant releases for recruiting and retaining hunters

In the 2021 Legislative session, House Bill 637 authorized the department to spend up to $1 million each year for a pheasant-stocking program focused on recruiting and retaining hunters. FWP is seeking final approval for a five-year period, calendar years 2022 through 2026, to release pen-raised pheasants on state-owned lands within suitable pheasant habitat for recruitment and retention efforts.

Cornell Park Fishing Access Site (FAS) Acquisition (Region 3)

 In 2020, the commission approved FWP to analyze the acquisition and development of the Cornell Park Fishing Access Site on the Beaverhead River near Dillon. That process is complete and FWP is asking the commission to authorize the department to acquire the site.

Sha Ron FAS Site MDT Recreation Permit (Region 2)

Last August, the commission approved FWP’s request to look at expanding, acquiring, and developing a new parking and access area that is near the existing Sha Ron Fishing Access Site on the Clark Fork River near Missoula. That process is complete and FWP is asking for commission approval to obtain a no-cost recreation management permit from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to accommodate the parking expansion and additional river access on an MDT site to the northeast of Sha Ron.

Amend Angling Restriction and Fishing Closure Administrative Rules, 12.5.507 and 12.5.508, ARM

 In 2008 the commission adopted an administrative rule for implementing angling restrictions or closures during periods of drought. The department is proposing to change these rules to incorporate criteria for cutthroat trout fisheries and to provide additional guidance for when a restriction or closure will be implemented or lifted. FWP data and other research has found that the current restriction and closure criteria for salmonids (daily maximum temperatures reach or exceed 73 degrees Fahrenheit any time of day for three consecutive days) exceeds the mortality threshold for cutthroat trout. The department has determined that adopting criteria at 66 degrees Fahrenheit for cutthroat fisheries would better reduce angling impacts to cutthroat during drought.

Other proposed changes are intended to avoid scenarios where restrictions or closures would be implemented or lifted over a short period of time before a closure or restriction would be re-implemented or lifted again (i.e., an on-again-off-again scenario).

The proposed rule language will be posted on July 8. Public comment will be taken until Aug. 5.

Future Fisheries Improvement Projects, Summer 2022 funding cycle

The Future Fisheries Improvement Program (FFIP) continues to provide funds for projects that restore fishery habitats in streams, rivers and lakes for the benefit of wild fisheries. Applications are reviewed twice each year by the 14-member Citizen Review Panel appointed by the Governor. Recommendations are forwarded to the commission every six months for consideration and approval. For the Summer 2022 funding cycle, the Citizen Review Panel recommends funding eight of nine submitted proposals at a program cost of $238,810. Matching funds total $950,735, producing a ratio of $4 in external contributions to every $1 of FFIP funding.

Current applications, recommendations, and ranking information can be found on the FFIP website under Summer 2022 Grant Applications and Meeting Materials.

Big Snowy Mountains WMA Fee Title Acquisition, Region 5

FWP is proposing that the commission approve FWP purchasing approximately 5,677 acres in the foothills of the Big Snowy Mountains near Rygate. The property provides valuable habitat for wintering big game and other wildlife. The property would also support public recreation and access to adjacent public lands.

Nongame Tax Check-off Workplan

The nongame wildlife tax check-off account is a state special revenue fund provided for in 17-2-102, MCA. All money collected under 15-30-2387 and now 4% of the marijuana taxes deposited under 16-12-111 goes into this account. Money in the account must be used by the department for research, management, and education programs for nongame wildlife in Montana. The nongame program uses Montana’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) to prioritize nongame survey, management, and conservation efforts. The SWAP identifies 128 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, as well 13 aquatic and 14 terrestrial Community Types of Greatest Conservation Need. Under the provisions of 87-5-122, MCA, “the FWP Commission shall review and annually approve the nongame wildlife program’s projects recommended by the department for funding from the nongame wildlife tax check-off account. The commission shall provide for public comment during the review and approval process.”

The FY23 appropriation for the nongame tax-check off is $46,384 and the appropriation for the marijuana tax is $1,082,000. While this is a large increase in funding, the gap between the funds that have been available, and the funds needed to meet program objectives and obligations has significantly limited program success. New funding will increase opportunities to partner with landowners, universities, conservation organizations, and outdoor recreationists.

Approval of Request to Translocate Sage-Grouse to Alberta, Canada, in 2023

Alberta Environment and Parks is requesting that the commission authorize the translocation of 40 sage-grouse during spring 2023. This project was originally evaluated under the 2015 environmental assessment and the supplemental evaluation completed in 2022.

FWP is proposing to translocate sage-grouse to Alberta as outlined in the EA. The benefits to Montana include supplementing an international trans-boundary population and international expansion of sage-grouse range, which may be influential in future federal species status reviews and listing considerations.

Programmatic Approval of Long-term Leases of Priority Habitat

FWP has identified certain habitats as priority for conservation because of their importance to a wide variety of fish and wildlife species and has developed long-term habitat conservation leases as another tool to secure those habitats for long-term conservation. A Habitat Conservation Lease is a voluntary, incentive-based agreement between FWP and private landowners in which the landowner commits to specific land management actions that perpetuate effective wildlife habitat. These agreements would have a term length of 30 and 40 years. Public hunting access would be required at a level that is consistent with potential opportunity.

FWP is seeking programmatic approval by the commission of up to 500,000 acres of conservation leases that are consistent with the decision notice for the programmatic EA that will be completed for the conservation lease program. The initial focus of the conservation lease program would be sagebrush-grassland habitats, with a priority on sage-grouse core area habitat. That focus would be expanded to other priority habitats in subsequent years. Funding for the conservation lease program would be earmarked Habitat Montana funds, Pittman-Robertson funds, and other sources dedicated to specific habitat types (e.g., wetlands).

Selection of Organizations to Auction 2023 Moose, Sheep, Goat, Mule Deer and Elk Licenses

ARM 12.3.801 and 12.3.802 establish the criteria and process for selecting conservation organizations to conduct the moose, sheep, goat, mule deer, and elk license auctions/lotteries. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks solicited proposals to conduct the auctions/lotteries. The commission decides which organization is awarded the license(s) for distribution through auction or lottery.

Submission period for proposals is still open. Proposals will be posted on the commission prior to the Aug. 25 meeting.

Amendments to ARM 12.9.1403 Grizzly Bear Demographic Objective for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem

In 2018, the commission passed a regulatory mechanism for grizzly bear management in the event the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) grizzly bear population was delisted, and management authority transferred to the State of Montana. The administrative rule, entitled Grizzly Bear Demographic Objectives for the NCDE, intended to provide for management objectives that would ensure the continued recovered status of grizzly bear upon delisting.

FWP is proposing amendments that maintain the substance of the current ARM language while confirming that hunting and loss of bears to translocation of grizzly bears out of the NCDE have been and will continue to be managed sources of mortality measured and considered among other mortalities in 12.9.1403.

The proposed rule language will be posted on July 8. Public comment will be taken until Aug. 5.

Final adoption of motorized boating restrictions on the Boulder River as proposed by the Boulder River Citizens Advisory Committee

The commission proposes to close the Boulder River and its tributaries to motorized vessels, except motorized vessels powered by machinery of 10 horsepower or less from April 1 through Sept. 30, from the confluence with the Yellowstone River to the Natural Bridge.

The proposed rule language will be posted on July 8. Public comment will be taken, including a public hearing, until Aug. 5. All public comments will be provided to the commission for their consideration and posted on the website by Aug. 11.

Classification Review Committee’s recommendation to initiate rule making on classifying caracal cats as a prohibited species

 The commission proposes to classify the caracal cat as a prohibited species.

The rule proposal notice to list the caracal cat as a prohibited species was published on June 24.  Public comment on the proposal will be collected, including a public hearing, from June 24 to July 22.

Amend ARM 12.11.6705 Extending Implementation Date of Madison River Commercial Use Cap

The commission proposed language to amend ARM 12.11.6705 extending implementation of the commercial use cap on the Madison River upon adoption of an allocation method or a comprehensive river plan and rule package.

The proposed rule amendment will be posted on July 8. Public comment will be taken, including a public hearing, until Aug. 5. All public comments will be provided to the commission for their consideration and posted on the website by Aug. 11.

To make a comment

Comments will be accepted online HERE, in writing sent to the address above, and by email to:

Unless otherwise specified in the proposals, comments will be accepted until Thursday, July 21, at 5 p.m. Comments will also be taken on proposals and any commissioner amendments at the Aug. 25 commission meeting.