Hunting - Region 7
Tue Feb 14 08:34:00 MST 2017
In 2016, more than 45,000 resident and nonresident hunters utilized the Block Management Program in Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 7. These hunters buy far more than licenses; in fact, according to harvest surveys, they pump more than $20 million a year into the area economy.
But they would not have the opportunity to do that without the cooperation of 321 southeastern Montana landowners who enrolled in Block Management this year, opening nearly three million acres to public hunting. In an area where 75 percent of land is privately owned, this program is critical for public access and wildlife management. It is also funded mostly through the sale of hunting licenses.
To acknowledge the landowners’ contribution, FWP held its annual Block Management Cooperator Appreciation Dinner at the Town & Country Club on Feb. 3. A program update preceded the dinner, which drew about 220 people. Awards were given to those who have been cooperators for 10, 15 or 20 years. The Glendive appreciation dinner will be Feb. 16.
Region 7 Hunting Access Coordinator Travis Muscha thanked the landowners for supporting the program. He also recognized his office staff, the 12 seasonal Hunting Access Technicians, wildlife biologists, game wardens and administrative and support staff, all of whom play a role.
Demand for access rising
Muscha said the number of landowners in the program hasn’t changed much in the past five years. In 2016, 98 percent of cooperators said they were satisfied with the program, and 94 percent were happy in their experience with hunters.
“We’re staying pretty steady, which is positive,” he said. “Obviously, we’d like to see the number of acres and cooperators grow, and we’re working really hard every year to do that. If we can spread hunters out more, we can take pressure off some places that might be getting hit pretty hard.”
Hunter numbers are steadily rising, along with the demand for more access. In 2012, Region 7 hosted 29,484 resident and nonresident hunters on Block Management Areas, compared to 45,576 in 2016.
Abundance of opportunities a draw
Hunters seem happy with the opportunity they find here. Comment cards are still coming in for 2016, but based on 2015 feedback (more than 3,000 hunters), 83 percent observed game, 33 percent harvested something, and 93 percent rated their experience as satisfactory. Satisfaction has been near 90 percent or above dating back to 2003.
Hunter satisfaction is helped by the fact that post-season mule deer populations are 47 percent above the 10-year long-term average. Buck-to-doe and fawn-to-doe ratios are high, and deer were healthy heading into winter, so the future looks bright. Antelope numbers also are rebounding.
Bills before Legislature
Muscha shared a few issues currently before the Montana Legislature. House Bill 97, proposed by FWP, seeks to increase the annual cap on payments to Block Management landowners from $12,000 to $15,000. HB 164 would increase the amount of base hunting license revenue to be dedicated to hunting access enhancement programs. HB 311 would provide veteran preference for certain BMAs on Veterans Day.
Muscha also noted FWP staffing changes at the state level including a new Fish, Wildlife & Parks director, Martha Williams, and the hiring of Access and Game Damage Bureau Chief Jason Kool. Kool will replace Alan Charles of Miles City, who recently retired after 20 years of coordinating landowner/sportsman relations.
Longtime ties with Block Management
Several landowners were recognized with plaques for allowing Block Management access for more than 10, 15 or 20 years:
Willow Creek Cattle-Dan and Lina Moore – Custer County; Todd Basta, Elwin Prevost, Duane Pust - Richland County; Tom Brewer, James Puchter, Tim Puchter - Powder River County; Dukart Inc. – Edwin “Ted” - Wibaux County; Jeff Klos, Schweigert Ranch-Delbert and Alice Kay - Fallon County; Charles Phipps, Rex Phipps - Garfield County; Gerald Schroeber - Prairie County; and Wittmayer Ranch-Brian & Lynn - Dawson County.
Finneman Farm-Jim, Floyd and Myra Gabel, David Hoenke – Custer County; Hugo Asbeck, Bonnie Berry, Wayne Berry, Rosaaen Ranch-Dale, Loren Young - Richland County; Harold Brusett, Randy Brusett - Garfield County; Rich and Ellen Franko - Prairie County; Kolb Brothers-Ron, Wendy Kolb - Treasure County; Highland Rim Properties- Scott McRae - Rosebud County; Dale and Brenda Schweigert - Fallon County; Tom Stieg, Jeffrey Tauck and Larry Tauck - Carter County.
Aberg Ranch-Marc and Kay - Custer County; Cullinan Ranch - Dawson County; Miller Ranch-Bob Fjelstad - Treasure County; Llewell and Betty Johnson, Medearis Cattle Co.-John and Rena - Fallon County; LaBree Ranch-Jesse and Anna, Wolff Ranch-David and Connie - Carter County; Western Energy Co., Rocker Six Cattle Co.-Clint McRae - Rosebud County; D. Merchant & Sons-Jim, Pilgrim Creek Grazing District, Sand Rock Angus-Bob and Sharon Smith - Powder River County; Merlak Ranch- Harry - Garfield County.