The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission, at its Oct. 6 meeting, directed FWP to seek public comment on three tentative proposals that would limit the number of nonresident upland game bird licenses and create additional hunting opportunities for resident hunters. The proposals resulted from an FWP study of resident and nonresident hunting for sharp-tailed and sage grouse, pheasants and other upland game birds required by the 1999 Legislature before any limits could be placed on nonresident upland game bird hunting.
"The public needs a chance to get acquainted with the data that has been gathered on bird hunting in Montana," said Stan Meyer, Commission chairman, "and to comment on the three options to manage the growing number of nonresident bird hunters. We'd like to hear from as many folks as possible because this is a subject the Commission hasn't considered before."
One of the proposals is to cap at 11,000 the number of nonresident bird licenses sold annually. FWP sold 10,969 of these licenses in 1999.
A second proposal would allow only residents nine days to hunt pheasants at the front end of the season, as well as additional hunting days at the end of the season.
The final proposal would reserve for Montana residents upland game bird hunting on FWP managed wildlife management areas. Ninepipe WMA near Charlo and Freezeout WMA near Fairfield are two locations, of a possible 13, where bird hunting would be reserved for residents.
In addition to the three proposed changes in bird-hunting regulations, the public is asked to comment on whether FWP should increase both the amount of upland gamebird habitat protected by conservation easements and the amount of hunting access available for pheasant hunting through the state's Block Management and the Upland Game Bird Habitat Enhancement Programs.
Meyer said the Commission is very committed to preserving hunting opportunities for the average Montanan.
The proposals come as a result of an FWP analysis of non-resident and resident bird hunting. In the past 15 years, sales of Nonresident Upland Game Bird License have increased 86 percent, while sales of Resident Upland Game Bird Licenses have decreased 20 percent.
The analysis shows that both resident and non-resident hunters prefer to hunt pheasants. Many resident hunters believe access to private lands for bird hunting has become more difficult to gain the past five years in Montana. The study also shows that between 10 and 15 percent of Nonresident Upland Game Bird License holders used commercial outfitters. The FWP Commission gained the authority to set the number of Nonresident Upland Game Bird Licenses sold during the last legislative session with the passing of HB 478. This bill also increased the Nonresident Upland Game Bird License fee from $55 to $110 beginning in 2000. Preliminary license sales suggest that the license fee increase may have reduced nonresident license sales by as much as 20 percent. Year-end license sales figures will not be available until Feb. 2001.
The FWP analysis is available by contacting the Wildlife Division in Helena at (406) 444-2612 or on the FWP web site at fwp.state.mt.us click on "What's New," and look under "Hunting." Comments will be accepted until Nov. 27 by mail: FWP Wildlife Division, 1420 East Sixth Ave., P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT. 59601; email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or directly on the FWP internet site.