In response to questions raised by Gov. Marc Racicot's executive order to apply Level V restrictions to 10 western Montana counties, FWP officials say there will be a hunting season this year, but due to the extreme fire danger some hunting season openings may be delayed in some western Montana areas.
FWP Director Pat Graham said the Level V restrictions prohibit outdoor recreation in the affected area, including fishing, hiking, picnicking, hunting, and the use of most State Parks, Fishing Access Sites and all FWP Wildlife Management Areas.
The Level V zone restrictions went into effect Aug. 11 and include: Deer Lodge, Granite, Mineral, Missoula, Powell, Ravalli, Sanders and Silver Bow counties, and the portion of Lewis & Clark County that lies west of the Continental Divide. In addition, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal land in the southern portion of Lake County is also closed to recreation.
If weather and climate forecasts are on target, Graham said the restrictions on outdoor recreation in west central Montana are likely to extend beyond the scheduled opening day of several of Montana's early September hunting season openings.
Most upland game bird seasons and some moose, big horn sheep, and mountain goat seasons are scheduled to open statewide on Sept. 1. Montana's archery season is set to open statewide on Sept. 2.
"Unless there is a significant change in the predicted weather patterns, the early September opening of archery season, upland game bird season and our moose, sheep and goat seasons in west-central Montana will likely be delayed and similar delays could emerge in other areas," Graham said
In addition to the Level V designation for the 10 counties in western Montana, a Level IV designation has been issued for 16 additional counties in western Montana: Beaverhead, Broadwater, Cascade, Lincoln, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark east of the Continental Divide, Madison, Meagher, Park, Pondera, Sanders County that lies within the Kootenai National Forest, and Teton and Toole counties.
While Level IV does not prohibit recreation, it does impose restrictions on open fires, smoking, vehicle use, equipment use and other activities.
"We are experiencing tragic drought and fire conditions that we know are now affecting our fisheries and our wildlife," Graham said.
Graham said FWP has fielded hundreds of calls from resident and out-of-state hunters on whether the hunting seasons will be affected by the drought and recent forest closures.
"Today, we can only say that the drought and severe fire danger may delay the opening of some seasons in west-central Montana. Each day we will be monitoring how closures and restrictions in other parts of the state may affect the hunting seasons and immediately communicate that information to hunters and anglers in Montana and to our out-of-state visitors."
Extensive fire and drought information is available on FWP's website at fwp.state.mt.us. Look for the "Fire/Drought Update" link on the homepage. Other fire-related information is available by calling toll-free 1-800- 472-8455.