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  Comments (18) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
 
Montana’s Wildlife Policies Raise Ethical Question
Montana looking to hunters for help enforcing more of its wildlife management policies
HELENA — Montana is looking to recreational hunters for help in enforcing more of its wildlife management policies, but one regulator worries they are being asked to cross an ethical line in doing so.

The question is whether the state is unwittingly putting those hunters in a fix: Does their new role fall within ethical hunting guidelines or does it reduce them to wildlife management mercenaries whose actions could give hunting a black eye?

That's the concern of Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner Ron Moody, who recently questioned whether the agency's policies and proposals are asking hunters disregard what it means to be an ethical hunter.

"I think we're either at those limits, or what I really think is we've gone past them," Moody said.

FWP already uses hunters to help keep the wolf population down and in game-damage hunts to disperse elk or deer that are damaging private property. Now the commission is considering expanding their role.

In December, commissioners passed a policy allowing hunters to kill wolves that prey on livestock, a task that had been exclusively filled by wildlife enforcement officials.

The commission is now considering one proposal that would extend this year's wolf hunt well into the animals' breeding season and another that would use hunters to shoot bison that roam beyond designated areas.

The first proposal would extend the wolf hunt in the Upper Bitterroot Valley from Feb. 15 to April 1. Hunters have killed four gray wolves out of a quota of 18 there so far, and the extension of the season would help fill that quota with the aim of helping the declining elk herds there.

But wolves aren't the top elk predator in that part of the Bitterroot — mountain lions have that distinction — and April 1 is well into the wolves' breeding season when females are near the end of their pregnancies.

Moody said the sportsman's code mandates that hunters don't shoot game in their reproductive season. "It's just one of those things you don't do," he said.

The second proposal Moody took issue with is to allow recreational hunters to shoot wild Yellowstone National Park bison that wander beyond designated areas north of the park and outside of areas where the animals are transplanted, such as two northeastern Montana Indian reservations.

FWP Director Joe Maurier has said the proposal was written with the intent of trying to increase public tolerance for expanding the areas outside the park where bison can roam. Plans to reintroduce bison to Montana's landscape have been met with stiff resistance from the agricultural industry, which fears the spread of disease and property damage.

But Moody said killing bison that stray outside a containment area is more akin to vermin control than fair-chase hunting in which hunters pursue free-roaming game animals.

"It makes a difference what you do before the public and then go call yourself a fair-chase hunter. There's a jury out there judging you," he added.

The commission gave initial approval to the wolf and bison proposals 3-2 and 4-1. They now go out to public for comment before a final vote in February

FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said it is the agency's policy to use hunters to help manage wildlife populations when appropriate in a responsible and ethical manner.

"Hunters have asked for this opportunity. They appreciate the opportunity to take those bison and help manage wolves," he said.

As far as hunting wolves while the females are pregnant, Aasheim said the agency had considered the implications. But this is a special, one-time proposed extension in one specific area — and the plan has not gotten final approval, he said.

The man who wrote the book on ethical and fair-chase hunting, Jim Posewitz, said public perception is very important for hunters. The FWP's use of hunters to enforce wildlife management policies can work, provided the agency uses the right hunters, he said.

FWP should provide training so the hunters used have an understanding of the last century's conservation efforts in North America and also understand that the overall goal is to have sustainable, manageable wildlife populations, he said.

"We need to make sure they're very elite and a very respected group of hunters. We're not sending out assassins or SWAT teams. We are sending out sensitive, trained hunters to handle a very sensitive situation," Posewitz said.

Aasheim said additional hunting training has previously been suggested, but has not been implemented. Currently, the state provides a basic hunter education course and each person who participates in the annual bison hunt receives a 30-minute DVD that discusses ethics and hunting, he said.

Posewitz worked for the FWP for 32 years and founded Orion — The Hunters Institute, an organization that advocates for ethical hunting. More than 600,000 copies of his book, "Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting" have been handed out as part of hunter-education programs.

He cited Helena's program to control urban deer as a model of how it can be done right. Each year, the city receives authorization from FWP to kill a number of deer to maintain a manageable density of animals within the city. This year, that number is 220.

"They're not out there liquidating the deer. They're keeping the deer in balance with the carrying capacity of the city, and they're doing an excellent job of that," Posewitz said.
 
On 01-29-12, jimbo commented....
Easy, Call FWP and get the Region One 2011 White-tailed Deer Report, prepared by John Vore. It has all the stats from 89-2010.  It also has the buck harvest age class by cementum analysis from 87 to 2010.  I thought much of the same way…
 
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