The moose quota for state-licensed hunters in two western Montana districts has been reduced by wildlife commissioners concerned about harvests by Indian hunters free of state regulation.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission took the action Friday after rejecting a Charlo woman’s request that all moose be off limits to state-licensed sportsmen in the hunting area. Sandra Shook urged the closure of Districts 210 and 211 on grounds that Indians hunt excessively there.
State wildlife biologist Dan Hook said in a memo that trying to manage moose in the two districts has become “a guessing game due to the unknown factor of unlimited tribal hunting.”
Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes do not need state licenses to hunt on “open and unclaimed” land in their traditional hunting territory. Open and unclaimed land generally is defined as federal property west of the Continental Divide.
The Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council on the Flathead Indian Reservation requires that Indian hunters obtain tribal permits, and report the location of moose killings. The tribe voluntarily has shared that information with the state wildlife agency.
There are no restrictions on the number of moose that Indians may kill, nor are hunting locations specified.
Because the state has no control over Indian hunting, reducing the moose quota for state-licensed hunters is the commission’s method of trying to protect the moose population.
Tribal harvests rose from one moose in 1993 to 13 in 1996, Hook said. In Districts 210 and 211 combined, a total of about 25 moose were taken last year by Indian and state-licensed hunters. The moose population cannot continue to support that number, Hook said.
Aerial surveys indicate a consistent decline in the districts’ moose population, and tribal officials agree Indian hunting has become a significant management concern.
Under the latest action by wildlife commissioners, the quota in district 210 will be one antlered bull and one antlerless moose. In district 211, the quota will be three antlered bulls and one antlerless moose.
Salish and Kootenai spokesman Brian Lipscomb said the tribes are gathering members’ comments on the moose issue and will present the matter to the tribal council this summer. The council has the power to regulate Indian hunting.