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Saturday, February 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New elk bowhunting rules cost Montana millions of dollars

 Elk cross the Gardner River near Mammoth in Montana in Yellowstone National Park last April.  (Associated Press)
Elk cross the Gardner River near Mammoth in Montana in Yellowstone National Park last April. (Associated Press)

BIG-GAME HUNTING -- The 2011 archery elk permit drawing results are in, and for some it was a day of reward and excitement. For others there was disappointment in not drawing a permit for this year. For Montana it was an economic bloodletting.

The details are spelled out in an op-ed piece published in the Missoulian by Mac Minard, executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.

"More than $16 million in economic activity has been lost due to residents and nonresidents who wanted to archery hunt in Montana but could not draw the permit. Limitations on permits are not based on conservation concerns, as all of the hunting districts involved are either at or over published population objectives for elk.

"In 2008, in a very controversial decision, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission decided to move from unlimited to limited archery elk permits for the Missouri Breaks. The rationale given included a number of factors, none of which had to do with abundance (or lack) of elk as populations are larger than desired. This action spurred a furious debate, but in the end it passed with no one really knowing what the impact would be.

"Then in 2010 the commission further reduced archery hunting opportunity in 22 additional hunting districts where elk were at or over the management objective. Taken together, 29 hunting districts, or 36 percent of the land mass of Montana, are now managed under a limited permit system. All of them enjoy an abundance of elk.

"Now, in 2011, we find that 1,854 resident hunters and 1,989 nonresidents, who had already obtained hunting licenses, put in for archery permits but were not drawn. These 3,843 hunters would have come to rural Montana to hunt and would have spent money on motels, restaurants, travel and incidentals that provides desperately needed economic activity and benefits families in communities that are struggling financially."

Read on for more of Minard's commentary.

Using economic multipliers provided by FWP, the estimated lost economic impact in 2011 alone is over $7 million. Since 2009, Montana has lost an estimated $16.4 million in spending by elk archery hunters who did not draw a special permit.

Several things are of concern. To recklessly forgo significant hunting opportunity for residents and nonresidents in the face of biological surplus should be highly disturbing to the hunting community. The loss of more than $16 million in economic activity during these tough times should make every Montanan question the wisdom of this practice.

The commission's decision to limit permits, and their continued interest in reducing them even more, drew the attention of the Legislature this past session. House Bill 361 called for the rollback of permit levels to 2007 levels. HB 361 narrowly failed primarily because legislators were reluctant to "micromanage" the commission's business. There was a belief among some that the commission would revisit and reverse its decision to severely limit hunting opportunity in areas where elk were over objective, but that has not happened.

Some of the 1,854 resident hunters and a few of the 1,989 nonresident hunters will choose to hunt elsewhere in Montana, crowding into districts that still afford opportunity during a general season. In seeking opportunity elsewhere they take the economic benefit away from communities that desperately need it and take harvest away from elk populations that can sustain it.

This is not just a resident vs. nonresident issue, as more than 1,800 Montana resident hunters were denied the opportunity to archery hunt elk in areas where elk abundance is sufficient to sustain that pressure.

The commission process is dominated by special interest groups and individuals who claim to represent Montana sportsmen. When was the last time a self-proclaimed "representative" asked what you thought? Like a growing number of frustrated Montanans, I do not understand why the commission continues to recklessly forgo sustainable hunting opportunity and cripple small-town economies.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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