Projects and Issues

Montana 10(j) Proposal, West Fork of the Bitterroot

Friday, October 29, 2010

FWP Wildlife Bureau
Public Comments
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620-0701

To Whom It May Concern:

On behalf of the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF), our over 7,500 members and 23 affiliated Rod and Gun Clubs, we respectfully submit the following comments in support of the proposed action for the Montana 10(j) Proposal, West Fork of the Bitterroot. Montana Wildlife Federation has for over 75 years worked tirelessly to build, maintain and grow Montana’s wildlife legacy and fair chase hunting and angling heritage. With new challenges facing Montana’s wildlife and wildlife habitats, MWF firmly believes that exercising all applicable opportunities to maintain not only hunter opportunity, but providing for the continued propagation of all wildlife is necessary in order to pass down our over 100 year history of sustainable stewardship of both predator and prey populations for the benefit of the ecosystems, and the people who live, work and play in these shared landscapes.

Currently, the West Fork of the Bitterroot Elk herd is severely under its objective range of 1600 – 2400 Elk. While a number of factors have led to this decline, only the wolf is the unmanaged condition. Hunter opportunity has been severely curtailed over the last 2-3 seasons, habitat management projects are in full swing, and more liberal seasons for mountain lion and black bear have been developed. Yet calf/cow numbers (9-11/100) remain precipitously low, and bull/cow numbers (4/100) as well show signs of unsustainability for this once iconic elk herd. The overall herd count of 744-863 is more than 50% below the minimum herd objective of 1600. The data is clear: Elk in the West Fork of the Bitterroot are failing at an alarming rate. MWF’s concern is that if immediate action is not taken on all fronts, then this population of elk will no longer exist without even more drastic action.

MWF strongly supports the use of hunter conservationists utilizing fair chase hunting methods as the agents of wolf removal in this proposal. Not only does a using hunter conservationist reduce the cost of wolf removal, but it also provides for more hunter opportunity, and it gives the hunter conservationist a real and measured stake in wolf conservation as well as elk conservation. Hunter Conservationists have been the primary agent of Conservation funding for the last 100 years in Montana, and Nationwide. It is critical to maintain that valued and accepted role in working towards increasing the Elk Herd in EMU 250 back to its objective levels. Hunter Conservationists are the most effective agents of wildlife management when it comes to cost effectiveness, efficiency and ethical use of the wildlife resource. To include them in this proposal is to continue the most successful conservation model ever devised: The North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. We applaud Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for their continued application of this model.

MWF further supports the call to apply this proposal over a five year period where real results can be measured and adaptations to the plan can be made based on hunter harvest, ingress and egress of wolves, new pack dynamics and a host of other issues. Unless continued application of the proposal is allowed, the one time removal of wolves from EMU 250 will only cause more wolves to move in to the area, keeping elk numbers artificially depressed. Continued application will allow calf elk the ability to grow, and replace older age cow elk as their reproductive ability is reduced, and it further more allows for more bull elk to stay in the genetic lineage, creating better bull/cow ratios needed to grow this herd back to it’s objective.

Finally, MWF firmly believes that this proposal is only one management option in the entire suite of applications that can and are being utilized to restore the West Fork of the Bitterroot Elk Herd. Continued use of habitat management programs, reduced hunter harvest during this project, and continued take of Mountain Lions and Black Bear will be necessary to create an environment where elk will flourish again.

The West Fork of the Bitterroot is one of Montana’s premier hunting grounds. Wild, rugged country, where hunters have to work hard for each and every trophy is the goal of this proposal. Maintaining elk populations at or above objective in this area will not only help support hunter opportunity, but it will help support a genetically diverse and viable wolf population in the future. While the Northern Rockies Distinct Population Segment of Grey Wolves remains listed well beyond the metrics of delisting have been met, the unchecked growth of wolves is starting to impact ungulates herds in a negative manner. This proposal, because of politics and policies, is the only tool available to Montana’s wildlife managers that seems to meet the approval of the Federal Overseers, and there fore is the best option available to restore this once trophy herd.

MWF is thankful to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for working with local stakeholders such as the Bitterroot Elk Working group and our stalwart affiliate, Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association in crafting a proposal that will meet the needs of the Elk population, hunter opportunity, and maintain a viable population of wolves in the West Fork.

Respectfully submitted,

Ben Lamb
Conservation Director for State and National Issues
Montana Wildlife Federation
P.O. Box 1175
Helena, MT 59601

(406) 437-3558 xtn 108

blamb@mtwf.org

Courtesy of Lucas Ziemelka


Montana Wildlife Federation      5530 N. Montana Ave., Helena, MT 59601      Mailing address: PO Box 1175, Helena, MT 59624
Phone: 406-458-0227      Fax: 406-458-0373      Toll Free: 1-800-517-7256      Email: mwf@mtwf.org
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