Big-Game Outlook Bleak For Montana

Big-game hunters in Montana may be facing one of the bleakest hunting seasons in 20 years in the wake of a savage winter that took heavy tolls on wildlife.

Wildlife biologists from throughout the state have painted a generally grim picture of the prospects for the fall season.

There will be fewer old bucks, doe numbers are down, yearlings of either sex will be few and far between, and even this summer’s fawns could be scarce, they reported.

Antelope herds, which have fallen from record levels, appeared to be suffering in some parts of the state.

Elk populations also suffered in a few areas, most notably in Paradise Valley, where elk stream out of Yellowstone National Park by the thousands. Federal and state biologists say winter-kill there may be the worst since the winter of 1988-89, when 20 to 40 percent of the park’s northern herd died. This year’s losses are much lower than that, but the highest in a decade, they estimate.

The only relatively bright spots reported Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department biologists are the deer populations in north-central Montana and the deer and antelope of southeastern Montana.

The state made sharp reductions in deer B tags and antelope licenses last year because of big population drops that may be from a natural cycle. The latest assessments may mean further cutbacks, and possibly reductions in antlerless elk permits in some areas.

Crane plan approved

The state Fish and Game Commission has approved a plan for managing sandhill cranes in eastern Idaho, which includes some hunting and lure crops.

Only minor changes were made in the draft. They were approved unanimously at the commission’s meeting last week in Boise. Local farmers had complained the expanding population of cranes was destroying their grain and potato crops.

Under the guidelines, Fish and Game officers will respond to damage complaints for which the department is responsible within 48 hours.

Between 600 and 1,000 acres of lure crops to divert the cranes away from private fields will be maintained. Federal kill permits may be requested to remove cranes from severely damaged areas.

If kill permits are denied, some controlled sport hunting on cranes would be maintained. Farmers will be given information to better minimize damage, and that destruction will be documented.

Hunt deadline arrives

Today is the final day to apply for controlled hunts in Idaho for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Applications must be postmarked today or hunters may apply by telephoning (800) 824-3729. In addition, for the first time, applications also may be made through point-of-sale machines at any license vendor.

The number of permits available include 749 moose, 64 Rocky Mountain bighorn, 45 California bighorn and 68 mountain goat.

In the Panhandle region, moose permits have increased to 108, double the total in 1990. There are no sheep or goat hunts scheduled in the Panhandle.

The application period for deer, elk and antelope controlled hunts begins Thursday and continues through May 30.

Landowner relations forum

Rights and privileges of landowners and sportsmen will be explored in a May 9 forum in the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council auditorium at 6116 N. Market in Spokane.

The regionally focused discussions will include landowners speaking about their problems with hunters and critical wildlife issues. Sportsmen will have an opportunity to discuss problems they face in accessing private lands.

Topics also include incentive programs and other issues critical to landowner-hunter relations.

The forum will begin at 7 p.m. Information: (509) 487-8552.

, DataTimes

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