In a move to protect declining populations, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission has closed a northwestern Montana bighorn sheep hunting district and southwestern Rocky Mountain goat hunting district for the 1999 season.
The bighorn sheep closure in Hunting District 101, which lies south of Eureka and east of Lake Koocanusa, comes due to the declining number of sheep being observed during FWP's annual surveys. While observation surveys do not catch every animal in a herd, "observation" counts have dropped from a high of 68 in 1991 to six in 1998. Biologists suspect that predation, disease, inbreeding, and deaths due to vehicle traffic may be factors contributing to the decline of this herd.
The Rocky Mountain goat closure in Hunting District 340, which lies south of Butte and west of the Jefferson River, is similarly related to declining numbers of goats observed by biologists, but at this time biologists cannot pinpoint a reason for the decline. Observations have dropped from a high of 33 in 1988 to four earlier this year.
"We believe these closures are prudent conservation measures to protect these herds," said Glenn Erickson, FWP's wildlife management bureau chief.
Erickson said any hunters who may have already submitted license applications for these hunting districts will be contacted by FWP and given the opportunity to choose another hunting district. The 1999 Sheep and Goat Hunting Regulations, which were printed in March, shows one bighorn sheep license available in HD 101 and two goat licenses available in HD 340. The application deadline for licenses to hunt moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats is May 1.