An unprecedented amount of growth in the overall number of properties enrolled in Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Block Management Program this fall and a subsequent enormous amount of interest among hunters in accessing these areas has prompted FWP officials to once again outline procedures for obtaining permission to hunt Block Management Areas (BMAs) as well as to ask for patience among some of those seeking a place to hunt through the program.
For 1996, roughly 860 individual BMAs comprising nearly 7 million acres in Montana are enrolled in the Block Management Program. This compares with almost 5 million acres enrolled in the program last fall. Most of the enrolled acres are in FWP administrative regions 1, 4, 6 and 7.
The phenomenal growth in the program has been realized due to the passage of House Bill 195 by the 1995 Montana Legislature. HB 195, based on 20 recommendations made by the Private Land/Public Wildlife Advisory Council appointed by Governor Racicot, created the Hunting Enhancement Program, which seeks to further public hunting access to private land by providing incentives to offset impacts to landowners who allow public hunting on their properties. The incentives program, which can provide up to $8,000 in benefits and services to a cooperating owner of private land, is being funded through the sale of variable-priced Big Game and Deer Combination hunting licenses to nonresidents who applied for them under the sponsorship of licensed Montana outfitters.
Jerry Wells, administrator of FWP's Field Services Division, which coordinates the popular Block Management Program for the state wildlife agency, explained that hunters desiring permission to hunt in areas enrolled in the program should contact the FWP office in the agency's administrative region in which they wish to hunt. FWP staff there will inform callers of the properties available in their specific area of interest for the species they wish to hunt and instruct them in how to obtain permission for hunting on those properties and any special rules or restrictions that may apply to hunting on those properties.
Wells noted that callers requesting information on Block Management opportunities in the Helena, Butte and Havre areas, towns in which FWP maintains area offices, should call those local offices. The agency's Helena headquarters does not maintain specific information on Block Management opportunities in any areas of the state, he said.
Wells asked hunters to recognize that FWP Block Management rules, in general, are not applicable on legally accessible federal (in most cases, Bureau of Land Management) lands, although there are some exceptions, and that in these cases cooperative rules have been worked out with the appropriate federal land management agencies. In those areas, the federal agencies and FWP have worked together and federal rules and BMA rules are generally the same.
Wells said the number of calls requesting information on BMAs available for hunting through the program this year has escalated far beyond projections and even a more than two-fold increase in the number of BMAs open to public hunting this fall has not been enough to accommodate the increased demand. FWP Region 7 Supervisor in Miles City, Don Hyyppa, said the interest in the Block Management Program, of which Region 7 offers by far the largest portion of the available acreage in the state, is welcome and that many hunting opportunities are still available. However, he continued, the very heavy demand for reservations for the opening weekend of the antelope and deer seasons for a few large and popular BMAs also has caused some problems for hunters.
Hyyppa explained that a telephone system specifically installed earlier this fall to handle Block Management-related calls did not work as designed and some hunters have experienced frustrations related to that failure. "Now that we are aware of the interest and problem, we will be considering some other methods of handling the volume of calls in the future, possibly such as drawings, for these heavy-use BMAs," he said.
Hyyppa emphasized that this year marks a "watershed" for the Block Management Program because many aspects of it are new or greatly expanded. As a result, he urged hunters to "please be patient and bear with us as we iron out the bugs and snags that are the inevitable result of doubling the size of the program in one year. We offer our apologies to those who may have been inconvenienced or missed their preferred hunts because of recent difficulties."
Hyyppa said FWP encourages hunters taking part in the program to relay their comments, including complaints, to agency staff at either regional offices or the Helena headquarters. "We need and want to know how the program is working in all areas of the state and ways it can be improved in the future."