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By Scott Eggeman
Blackfoot Area Biologist, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks 

A Look Back And Looking Forward

A Place for All

 


As the 2015 year reaches its twilight, it’s good to reflect on the many projects over the past eleven months. For me, I spend the better part of a year thinking about big game and big game management. Whether by choice or not, big game management has consumed my focus. However, when given the opportunity I try to enjoy the many other wildlife species that make the Blackfoot Watershed their home.

We live in a rare place, rare in the riches of wildlife and wild lands that we enjoy but also rare in the people and communities that share this “place for all.” Caught up in the day-to-day, I too often take for granted the great fortune of living and working in this amazing place. I doubt the many wildlife species have a clue how fortunate they are.

They haven’t a conscious thought of the many thousands of hours of sometimes tense meetings that people have invested for the sake of conserving and managing this great place. I doubt they understand the millions of dollars and countless hours of work that have been invested in conservation and management of this landscape.

The people in this valley certainly do think about these things. We still sit through difficult, and sometimes contentious, meetings trying to get it right for the resource, the people and the community. It has taken much time and energy to get where we are. As challenges of economy, community and natural resources continue to develop, we will work together to overcome those challenges like we have in the past.

Speaking of the past, 2015 is almost complete and here is my brief review for the Blackfoot watershed. Elk numbers were stronger across most Blackfoot Hunting Districts. Particularly, the number of calves per 100 cows counted in the spring – our measure of annual recruitment – was higher across the board.

Hunt district 282 – the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area – has steadily risen since an all time low of 12 calves per 100 cows in 2012 to 23 per 100 this past spring. This certainly doesn’t mean we have recovered to historic recruitment levels of approximately 32 per 100 but we are trending in the right direction.

Hunt district 283 was almost exactly where it was the last time it was surveyed with total numbers of elk but experienced the highest calf recruitment in five years.

Hunt district 292 reached its population objective for the first time since 2008 and experienced very high recruitment of 40 calves per 100 cows. These signs indicate steady to growing numbers of elk within the western portion of the Blackfoot watershed.

Bull harvest will help to tell the rest of the story once the results of the post-season harvest surveys are released in April or May of 2016.

Another significant story for 2015, at the state level, was the approval of shoulder seasons for elk management. Shoulder seasons are designed to address over abundant (objective) elk populations, in most cases, populations that spend significant time on private land and cause extensive damage to agricultural crops.

Shoulder seasons can be applied early (Aug. 15 – General Season) and/or late (General Season – Feb. 15). Unlike management seasons that function similarly to game damage hunts we currently use in over-objective hunt districts, shoulder seasons are structured into the hunting regulations and carry with them certain license and/or permit restrictions, some more liberal than others. For the most part these regulations restrict harvest to antlerless elk on private lands. It is important to note that shoulder seasons are one newly approved tool Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) can use to help address over-abundant elk populations but they are not appropriate in all areas.

To reduce the burden of endless calls from hunters to landowners, FWP, with help from partner organizations, has added hunt coordinators in some areas that will be using shoulder seasons. A hunt coordinator serves as a liaison between hunter and landowner to improve hunter efficiency and help with hunter/landowner communication.

Looking ahead, FWP is currently undergoing the process of developing their plan for the next 10 – 20 years. Named, 15 and Forward, the process has been ongoing throughout the year and aims at identifying the direction for FWP into the next decade.

This process has involved input from current FWP employees and members of the public, asking a variety of questions. The answers to these questions will shape our direction. Thus far, one of the greatest challenges FWP faces is identifying ways to better represent our non-hunting public that value wildlife for less traditional purposes. Doing this without forgetting our traditional role will be a slow but worthwhile transition going forward.

Continuing to look ahead, in the immediate future FWP area biologists will be spending the better part of Jan. hosting meetings to discuss 2016/2017 season setting proposals in communities throughout Region 2.

There will be four meetings in the Blackfoot watershed:

• Jan. 4 in Seeley Lake at the Community Hall starting at 6:30 p.m.

• Jan. 6 in Lincoln at Lambkins restaurant at 6:30 p.m.

• Jan. 13 at Lubrecht Experimental Forest at 6:30 p.m.

• Jan. 18 in Helmville at the Helmville Community Hall at 6:30 p.m.

All public are welcome to the meetings and encouraged to participate by providing feedback on season setting proposals.

 

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