Friday, October 14, 2016

MSA and the 2nd Amendment

Some folks have asked if the Montana Sportsmen Alliance “…supports the second amendment.” That is indeed a broad question, given the numerous political and social issues that firearms ownership and use means these days. The short answer is yes. But this bears some explanation.

Firearms have been and are an integral part of Montana’s history, traditions and culture, and certainly our hunting heritage. Our membership includes hunters, target and trap shooters, collectors, outdoor writers, gunsmiths, wildlife professionals, law enforcement officers and a wide array of other folks whose avocations and vocations revolve around guns. As such, MSA unequivocally supports the ownership and use of firearms, the second amendment (as well as the other 27 and the Montana Constitution) that makes such a right as well as all lawful, appropriate, and ethical uses ownership entails.

We are proud that our membership crosses social, economic and political lines. It has always been our belief that conservation is not the sole property of a particular political party or ideology but of all the people. Our membership has proven this time and time again when members who, in other political or social situations or discussions, couldn’t be farther apart come together as MSA. We are unified on behalf of fish and wildlife, wild lands, good stewardship and management, access and in sum, keeping the “Best” in “The Last Best Place.”

The MSA was founded and operates as a conservation organization. We began in order to fill what we believed was a serious void in the effective and informed advocacy for the wild resources that we, as Montanans, hold dear to our way of life, and our ability to enjoy and enhance our outdoor legacy. We saw —and still see— a growing threat to appropriate, reasoned, science-based management and opportunity and as such have tried to remain a focused, unified voice. We therefore pick our battles and direct our efforts and limited resources to those issues which we believe are fundamental to our purpose.

Firearms — their ownership, use, possession, misuse, et al— have hit the spotlight both nationally and here in Montana. There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to work exclusively in those arenas. MSA has, at times, allied itself with some of these groups in efforts where they align with our main conservation purposes. We opposed using suppressors for big game hunting because of ethical and legal issues- not because of gun use or ownership. We oppose I-177 because we believe it has ramifications for hunting, constitutes fundamentally flawed wildlife management and public policy and would further politicize the already over-politicized resource management process. But because of the huge array of sub and side issues, MSA must remain true to its primary conservation mission and not divide its efforts. Just as important, however, we whole-heartedly support and encourage our members to individually follow their beliefs and consciences and to be actively involved with whatever groups they chose and their issues.

So again, does the MSA support the second amendment? Absolutely.

Monday, October 10, 2016

2016 Montana Sportsmen Alliance Endorsements

Once again it is election time. Absentee ballots go out this week. MSA has been very busy this cycle interviewing candidates, vetting choices, and sticking up for our candidates. We are proud of our list. Please consider these folks as we do; we are confident they are friendly to sportsmen/women, understand science based management, the Montana Model, Public Trust Doctrine, and Federal lands transfer baloney.
In this era of disgusting politics, it is hard to sort thru the BS and really tiring to listen to. Please do not become complacent…GET OUT AND VOTE. As you are voting, consider if the candidates know and understand our issues. Do they understand the resentment about legislating game management? Do they understand the fallacy of Fed Land Transfer? Will they stand with us against all the threats to fish and game management? And, DID ANY OF THE CANDIDATES SIGN THE STATE OR FEDERAL LAND TRANSER POSITION of both state and national GOP. MSA is non-partisan but we will be very uneasy voting for land transfer folks.
Even tho the ballots will be out, if you are confused on any stands, contact the candidate and ask questions. DO NOT VOTE BLINDLY!
MSA Leadership

Denise Juneau US Representative
Steve Bullock Governor
Larry Jent MT Attorney General
Dirk Sandefur Supreme Court
Melissa Romano Superintendent of Public Instruction
Glenn Ferren SD 07
Jen Gross SD 25
Margie McDonald SD 26
Jeff Welborn SD 36
Tom France SD 47
Denley Loge HD 14
Rob Cook HD 18
Tom Jacobson HD 21
Jean Price HD 24
Casey Schreiner HD 26
Bridgett Smith HD 31
Rae Peppers HD 41
Jessica Karjala HD 48
Kelly McCarthy HD 49
Virginia Court HD 50
Merlyn Huso HD 70
Tom Welch HD 72
Amanda Curtis HD 74
Patrick Johnson HD 80
Janet Ellis HD 81
Scott Ralston HD 85
Margaret Gorski HD 88
Ellie Hill Smith HD 90
Addrien Marx HD 92
Willis Curdy HD 98

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance proudly endorses Larry Jent for Attorney General 

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance PAC proudly endorses Larry Jent in his candidacy for Montana Attorney General. 

Jent’s long-standing legal and legislative record supporting conservation and public land issues coupled with his personal experience and commitment to our wild outdoor heritage arms him with the perspective and knowledge to stand and act on behalf of the sportsmen and women of Montana as the state’s top legal official.

As an outdoorsman, Mr. Jent understands the passion Montanans hold for our wild resources and the vigilance necessary to ensure their continued enhancement and perpetuation. His experience as an attorney has given him the tools to stand on behalf of conservation issues, both in his community and at the state level. As a legislator, Mr. Jent has been at the forefront of efforts to protect public access such as Montana’s landmark Stream Access Law, successfully sought to expand penalties for the willful violation and unlawful commercialization of Montana’s wildlife and worked to gain pay parity for Montana Game Wardens. Across the board, he has played a key role in issues to deal fairly and responsibly with the delicate balance between private property rights and the Public Trust.

At a time when efforts are being intensified to privatize public resources and further exclude average Montanans from their outdoor heritage, Mr. Jent can be relied upon as an experienced advocate and an articulate and active voice against that tide. We need an Attorney General who supports and will defend the long-standing legal tradition and precedents that ensure a future for Montana’s wild legacy. Larry Jent has proven ability and commitment to do so.

Larry Jent Conservation Interview
  • Larry Jent's background
  • Access to MT State Lands & the Attorney General's seat on the State Land Board
  • Natural Resource Law - the Red Rim Case
  • Stream Access
  • MT Hunting Legislation & FWP Game Wardens
  • Bridge Access
  • Clean/Green Energy Technologies in MT
  • Attorney General Position and the State Land Transfer Issue
  • Outdoor Recreation, one of Montana's largest economies
  • Dark Money & Citizens United

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hunter Landowner Relations by Joe Perry

I am a farmer/rancher and landowner. I am also a hunter, angler, and recreationist. Each of these terms describe me but I am the sum total of all. I have never charged anyone a dime for access to my property. I take on as many hunters as I can but sometimes have to limit the numbers so as not to be overrun. After 40 years on the land, I have retired. Over that time, I have watched the “landscape” deteriorate from “hunt where you want but be respectful” to one of tightly controlled – or no- access. I believe that there is more to be said, and said candidly from the perspectives of both landowners and hunters/recreationists.

The root of the issue seems to be from a growing disconnect between rural landowners and urban recreationists. We’re all busy. We are much more mobile and don’t have the same level and type of contact with close friends and neighbors as we did in the past. I remember fondly all the times our family went to stay the weekend with our country cousins. Brandings, livestock and chores, machinery and driving, real fresh eggs, milk and cream and maybe hand-cranked ice cream Great wholesome food from gardens and barnyards. We kids kept busy all weekend while our folks visited and played cards. We developed an understanding of each other’s lives and real, close relationships came from that.

The level and kinds of interaction today has declined due to many factors. Livestock handling and machinery have become increasingly high tech and expensive. Kids aren’t welcome to play here. Farms having combinations of geese, turkeys, chickens, milk cows, beef, sheep, pigs, and cattle are rare.

In addition, there are so many additional “extra-curricular” activities and sports that we didn’t have. Parents pass each other coming and going, often dividing kid’s interests and commitments between them. Social time is at these events. Golf, tennis, soccer, swimming, etc. have been added to football basketball and track. Computer games and fast-thumbing on smart phones occupies the attention of so many folks.

Yet, a major touchstone of Montana’s heritage is shared resources such as wildlife. Montanans love to hunt and fish and recreate. It is family time. Wild game is a regular feature on the menus of many homes. People move here from out of state and work for less money than they could get in big cities for those reasons. Many of us who were born here made conscious decisions to stay here even if it meant making less money. The quality- and quantity of life- was worth the trade.

The personal relationship building of the past seems to receive less emphasis. Liability issues and OSHA make free help from outside folks much riskier and far less desirable. Relationships are much harder to build at a distance. Getting Western Montana townsfolk and Eastern Montana producers together happens on fewer occasions.

Something that many people who are not rural producers don’t understand is that Private Property Rights are paramount to landowners. Management decisions and the responsibility for the results of those decisions made on private property largely rest with the owners. Their livelihoods survive or not, based on these decisions. There too, are those landowners who consider the public lands they lease for farming or grazing to be essentially their own personal property. Many of these folks fail to recognize that they are only paying leases for grazing and/or farming. Those leases do not allow limiting access to the public. Also, as a result, many lessees are inclined to deny public access across their private property to access these public lands.

One thing that has struck me is that there seems to be little focus on what I call Public Property Rights. There are those who deny that the public owns all wildlife, and that each and every one of us shares in the ownership of our public lands. For some Americans and Montanans, public lands are the only ownership they will ever have. As a result, they love their public lands, and with good reason.

Why are landowners often at odds with recreationists? I see many contributing factors, attributed to both “sides.” Some recreationists show what I perceive is an arrogance about private lands. Folks forget that the landowner owes them nothing; trespass or access is a privilege not a right. Garbage dumping, littering, thoughtless tearing up of roads, willful unethical behavior, ignoring game laws, property damage and vandalism, unauthorized driving – the list goes on and on. When these activities regularly occur, it’s hard for a landowner to want to be generous. Additionally, many recreationists are not good about turning in illegal activities. They assume it’s not their problem or simply don’t want to be bothered. We need to step up and be accountable. “If you see something, say something” is the right way to help and show appreciation for the privileges you are accorded on private land.

The story of the hunter or angler encountering a landowner who treats them unfairly and poorly is as old as the hills. Upon asking permission to hunt on a rancher’s land, are lectured about how bad all recreationists are, getting a solid chewing for other’s inexcusable indiscretions. The recreationist gets an earful about how tough the landowner has it, and is personally blamed for the state’s wildlife agency’s missteps or contentious policies. Add to that the increasing lack of public access to private lands where there is so much pent up demand that landowners get inundated. Very early morning visits and calls and those late at nite to landowners who do welcome the public become overwhelming, coupled with long hunting seasons. As a result, good, reliable folks are denied access without having a chance to prove themselves.

Along with these issues, add private land outfitters to the mix. They are profit driven, and frankly, offer an alternative to landowners in the form of good payments and responsibility to handle all recreation on the place. Since outfitters usually demand exclusive access for their clients, the public is completely left out of the equation. Some outfitters claim to “manage” these places to maximize bucks and bulls but in reality is simply restricting access and as a result putting more and more wild critters on the ground. “Managing” for trophy wildlife by restricting access can be done by anyone; it is not wildlife management. Managing overall game populations and their distribution across the landscape is the charge of FWP in Montana. But there seems to be no responsibility taken by these outfitters to “manage” (i.e.- encourage and engage in the hunting of) all critters in the herd, particularly those pesky, “valueless” antlerless critters who are protected by limited access and hunting during the regular seasons, Wildlife numbers expand, often exponentially, with the result of over-objective herds, moving onto the neighboring properties (often ones that do allow public hunting), reeking havoc on someone else’s property. Late season, antlerless-only seasons then are demanded to solve the “problem” without affecting outfitted, antlered buck or bull clientele. There seems to be no consideration to run seasons concurrently to avoid brucellosis, chronic wasting disease, and other maladies that result from unnatural concentrations of wildlife. Concurrent seasons could disperse animals on the landscape while at the same time, offer public hunters a chance to harvest on private and public lands accessible to them. Shoulder seasons (hunting season that would begin and/or end after the 5-week General Rifle Season) were recently pushed as a means to deal with these problems. But they have performance criteria that require buy-in by landowners and outfitters, which has been pretty limited except with a few notable exceptions. The problems created for the private landowners through exclusive hunting on their properties keeps going to the legislature for resolution. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is the place where such decisions need to be made. They have the time, access to resources, information and expertise to consider the best way to move. Making wildlife management policy decisions in the partisan arena only serves to slap bandaids on problems and utilizes the most convenient and politically expedient solutions. We’ve seen the can kicked down the road too many times. Nonetheless, I expect to see the outfitters to continue to try to legislate their way out of their responsibility for the problem.

Farmers and ranchers were the original conservationists. Landowners are a fiercely independent lot and often that tenacity has paid off. Farmers and ranchers are coming off the best financial decade ever and they deserve it. There have been some real tough times for producers with little or no return on their investments. Often, government help was the only way we survived. Yes, government help with crop price deficiencies and disaster aid kept many farmers and ranchers on the land. Subsidized crop insurance makes risk management affordable to producers. In addition, the services of government agencies like the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Dept. Natural Resources and Conservation provide help with land management decisions, loans, and improvements like water and grazing systems, fencing, trees, CRP, wildlife improvements, and many others. But are these entitlements? Maybe to some, but they are paid for by all the tax paying residents of our country, “The Public.”

Leases on state and federal public lands for farming and grazing are a huge, necessary part of many producers’ operations. Generally, these leases are made far below “market”- what would be charged by a private landowner. In the case of federal leases, they are so low as to be ridiculous. Yet, these allowances have kept many an outfit in Montana in operation. Once again, who pays for the costs of these agencies who often manage at a big loss? “The Public.”

My intention is not to single out anyone. Keeping agricultural operations viable not only contributes to the economy but more often than not, has been of great benefit to wildlife, fisheries and public recreation in general. But I think it’s important to point to the fact there is legitimate and crucial financial interaction and relationship between producers and the public. Yes, those same town folks who you go to church with, basketball games, funerals, weddings, and benefits. The same folks who own the hotels, restaurants, gas stations, stores, bars, etc. The families your kids go to school with. Property taxes paid by landowners are a major component of the sustenance of our towns and counties. We need to recognize that it is a two-way street.

I believe it’s high time to realize we are all in this together and no one is getting out alive. Landowners, producers, and their city cousins all contribute to something called community, this thing we call “The Last Best Place”. FWP manages wildlife in trust for all of us. We all have legitimate and equal stakes in how it is managed and maintained into the future. Landowners as well as recreationists must realize we all rely upon one another, and, in fact, need each other. Tolerance and cooperation are the main components of our collective successful future. We all need to take responsibility for our actions!

Solutions: Sportsmen, take the FWP Hunter Landowner Stewardship course online. Report lawbreakers, “if you see something, say something.” Treat access to private lands as a privilege. Use “Fair Chase” and “Hunter Ethics” as your guide.

Landowners, know what the “Public Trust Doctrine” and the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” are. Remember your leased public lands are a privilege not a right. Share the resources your property can offer with your less fortunate urban cousins. Keep track of bad eggs and habitual offenders and let them pay the price for indiscretions, while allowing others to prove themselves. Have enough tolerance for the Public to harvest excess critters within the regular season.

Outfitters: Yes you are a business but, since you harvest Public Trust resources, treat it as a privilege. Look at more than just money in your pocket. Have some compassion for the critters. Work with sportsmen to allow harvest on leased lands during the regular seasons. Take responsibility for problems you create. When you run to the legislature to bypass public process, expect to pay the price of bad relationships with the Public. Public Land Outfitters, if you don’t want to pay the price for bad relationships caused by Private Land Outfitters, speak up for integrity! You have always shared the resources and have taken a shared role in management decisions. You have worked with sportsmen on a variety of issues. Be cautious who you allow to represent you.

Joe Perry

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Changes at Montana Sportsmen Alliance

Montana Sportsmen Alliance,
A Voice of Reason on Montana Fish and Wildlife Issues, 
is concerned about the future of our hunting/fishing heritage in Montana.
To help address these growing issues:

  • We have added a couple new board members, included Consultant Contributors, redesigned our MSA website ( click MSA Home, soon we will have our legislative scorecard uploaded).
  • To utilize social media, we created our MSA Blog for news, articles, MSA position statements and public comments, including articles from our Consultant Contributors. You can subscribe by adding your email address in the "Follow by Email" box on the right hand side of the MSA Blog, then hitting the "Submit" button. You will then receive a confirmation email in your inbox from Feedburner, click the confirmation link they provide in the email and you are set to receive notifications whenever MSA posts to the Blog.
  • Additionally, we have set up a MSA Constant Contact email alert to quickly network issues as they happen. You can subscribe to our MSA Blog and Email Alerts, to bring the news right to your email box. If you are receiving this News Alert as a forward and would like to subscribe, simply click the olive green "Subscribe" button at the top right hand side, fill in your Name and email address, then click the gold "Sign Up" button, you will automatically be subscribed to MSA's Constant Contact mail list. If you would like to Unsubscribe, there is a safe, one click Unsubscribe link at the bottom of the Email.

We hope you like our efforts and of course, we are always open to suggestions.  For those of you who don’t know, we have been active on our Facebook page since our old site had become obsolete.
MSA has also made it easier to contribute through a secure, online Paypal account, where you can also use your debit/credit card, if you dont have a Paypal account. You are always welcome and encouraged to contribute by check through the old fashioned snail mail:

Montana Sportsmen Alliance
3238 3rd Ave. S.
Great Falls, MT 59405

Welcome and we hope you enjoy.

John Borgreen, Great Falls
Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad
JW Westman, Laurel
Robert Wood, Hamilton
Steve Schindler, Glasgow
Jeff Herbert, Helena

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MSA APHIS Brucella Abortus Select Agent List Comment

March 14, 2016

Docket # APHIS -2014-0095
Regulatory Analysis & Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8

4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

Dr. Isaac:

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance, the voice of reason for the Montana hunters, anglers and conservationists appreciates the ability to comment on this very important issue. MSA strongly supports the removal of brucella abortus from the APHIS overlap select agent list.

MSA recognizes the hardship to Montana’s cattle producers when brucellosis is positively diagnosed. Private landowners, are our partners in stewardship of our publicly owned wildlife resources. MSA is equally concerned of transmission of brucellosis from domestic livestock to our wildlife, such as bison and elk. The fear of brucellosis transmission has greatly affected the natural distribution of our wildlife across the landscape and has caused conflicts between the livestock industry and wildlife advocates.

Reducing the above conflicts could be greatly affected by more research; therefore, being able to produce a more effective livestock vaccine is the ultimate outcome. With brucella abortus listed on the select agent list MSA strongly feels the overall production of a better vaccine is greatly hampered. In closing MSA feels removal of brucella abortus could be safely accomplished and would allow better, more thorough research. The end product could be an improved cattle vaccine, which would benefit Montana’s livestock industry as well as our publicly owned wildlife. MSA again, appreciates the ability to comment on issues of importance.

Respectfully submitted,

MSA Leadership Group:
John Borgreen, Great Falls
Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad
J.W. Westman, Park City
Robert Wood, Hamilton
Jeff Herbert, Helena
Steve Schindler, Glasgow

Saturday, March 12, 2016

MSA Condolences

 Concerning the death of Jennifer and Joseph Knarr and their son, Daniel,

To our friends in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, so sorry and sad for your loss. Please know you, and all touched by this, are in our thoughts and prayers and we share your loss. Take comfort in family and friends and cherished memories. 

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance would like to offer our condolences to the family and to our family of FWP wardens!


State fails to act on festering Fort Belknap issues

An article recently appeared in the Gazette and newspapers across the state regarding an incident that occurred in September of 2014 in North central Montana. A group of armed individuals forcibly detained State Game Warden Dirk Paulsen for over 5 1/2 hours on a public country road in Blaine County, outside the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation. The Tribal Business Committee had issued an order that no Fish, Wildlife & Parks personnel may travel through or on lands owned by or associated with the Tribes. This, a result of wildlife citations issued to Tribal members who had illegally killed elk on BLM not sub marginal or reservationlands in the vicinity. The animals taken were trophy Missouri Breaks elk.  The acts would have been illegal regardless of who pulled the trigger.
The group forcibly detained Warden Paulsen, attempting numerous times to disarm him. Had it not been for Paulsen’s cool head and professionalism the outcome of this situation would undoubtedly have been tragic.  Paulsen was finally "allowed" to leave the scene and later personally issued a citation by Tribal Law Enforcement for trespassing- on a public, county road.
The Attorney General's Office investigated and produced an extensive report that to date hasn’t been acted upon. Yet, due to what appears to be nothing more than purely political reasons, Warden Dirk Paulsen's unlawful detainment has languished in the hands of the Attorney General, the Governor's Office and FWP administrators. After almost two years, they continue to allow the issues to simmer, unable to separate sub marginal lands jurisdiction from clearly illegal acts. They boiled up again recently and as a result Paulsen was ordered by FWP not to set foot on or travel through Tribal lands of the Ft. Belknap Reservation. Ostensibly, this order was for his "...personal safety..." but it also included a caveat that his failure to comply with the order could result in disciplinary action against him. 
In the incident, Dirk Paulsen's civil rights were violated as well as many state and federal laws interfering with an officer of the law, coercion, unlawful restraint and a host of others that would constitute kidnapping by any other standard. Had this act been perpetrated by anyone else, they would be in jail. Yet, no action has been taken.  Instead, Paulsen has been vilified, the scapegoat of bureaucratic and political indolence and bungling.  All this when he, in fact, is the victim.  His excellent record of working with Tribal members and personal friendships and affiliations with the community are ignored and Paulsen is condemned a racist because he did his duty: investigating and citing people who willfully and knowingly violated state fish and game laws on public, non-Tribal lands.
Warden Paulsen was and is doing the job that we have entrusted him to do on behalf of all the people of Montana: protect and enhance our wild resources. That these crimes against him have been ignored is absolutely wrong. No Montanan –regardless of affiliation– is above the law. And allowing armed individuals to a take the law into their own hands in a fashion not unlike what recently occurred in Burns, Oregon, and do so with impunity is  unconscionable. 
On behalf of sportsmen and women and all Montanans, we condemn the treatment of Warden Paulsen. We urge in the strongest terms that the Governor, Attorney General and FWP administration stop playing politics, beating around the bush, and allowing these issues to fester. They need to voice strong support for Warden Paulsen in both words and deeds.  At the same time, the state must finally act to resolve jurisdictional issues with the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes. Working relationships with other tribes in Montana, most notably the Confederated Salish and Kootenai are in place that respects state and tribal rights and sovereignty while also protecting our precious wildlife resources. Ft. Belknap should be no exception. To continue to do nothing is to sidestep the responsibility of upholding the laws of the state, seriously diminishes the value of our wild resources and in essence, officially sanctions the illegal actions that took place on that county road in 2014.
The Montana Sportsmen Alliance Leadership

John Borgreen, Great Falls
Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad
Steve Schindler, Glascow
JW Westman, Park City
Robert Wood, Hamilton
Jeff Herbert, Helena

Thursday, March 3, 2016

MSA thoughts regarding recently passed "Shoulder Seasons"

March 2, 2016

Montana FWP Commission
Helena, MT

Dear Chairman Vermillion & Commissioners:

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance, the “Voice of Reason” for Montana hunters, anglers and those who enjoy our wildlife resources wish to thank all of you for your service to Montana’s conservation efforts. Although we often disagree, we do so as a result of our passion.

Our thoughts regarding the recently passed “shoulder seasons” are as follows:

  • The criteria, numbers 1 through 4 being of the utmost importance, by which these shoulder seasons were sold to sportsmen must be strictly adhered to. Anything less will do nothing more than greatly upset Montana sportsmen and women. We trusted FWP and the Commission decision to follow these, we will be watching that they are followed to the letter, as Montanans were told they would be.
  • There must be 100 per cent accountability throughout; that accountability spread between FWP and you, the Commission. Anything less will continue to ignite very poor relationships between Montana hunters, FWP and the Commission.
  • The data, again which were added to these shoulder seasons, must be compiled in a timely manner and be accounted for-throughout the process with 100 percent transparency.
  • Even though we were, and are still not seeing the importance of shoulder seasons we conceded they were going to be pushed through by FWP, The Governor’s office and the Commission. In this regard we’ve had enough. The time has come for you, the Commission, the Governor’s office and FWP to very publicly talk of why the tools we presently have in the tool box have never been allowed to work. In particular, going to antlerless only for all seasons in an over-objective area until it comes into objective. There needs to be open conversations regarding diseases, un-natural distribution across the landscape and of course un-natural concentrations (harboring). We all know these things are happening and we’re wondering when the conversations will begin, not just the bending to the will of landowners and outfitters.

We are also disappointed in the traction the “6 point rule” seemed to get. Homework on this issue was not done! MOGA’s proposal held no water and came from animal husbandry folks, not biologists. In science based management, multitudes of literature shows us they rarely work. We hope you never allow MOGA to push us into rediscovery of the wheel simply for their financial gain!

In closing we remain thankful we still have the process, which we aggressively protect, and we are thankful that we are able to speak, even if in very frank terms. Again thank you.

Montana Sportsmen Alliance

Monday, February 8, 2016

Montana's public trust wildlife model under seige

Montana's public trust wildlife model under seige by J.W. Westman

The Montana Model - Defined by the Public Trust 

Montana’s Constitution, Article IX, Section 7.  Re-enforces what has become known as the Montana Model.  That section states; Preservation of harvest heritage. The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights. In those simple, yet strong words, Montanans have a constitutional right to responsibly enjoy their public trust fish and wildlife.

Realistic discussions of the Montana Model must include a review of past successes that have made Montana the iconic state it is today. These successes define Montana’s Public Trust Model: Montana’s Stream Access Law, Fish and Wildlife In-Stream Flow Reservations, Habitat Montana, Upland Game Bird Program and Hunter Access Enhancement Program.

No shoulder seasons

When considering the ever-increasing pressure by privatization and commercialized interests focusing on Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ inability to manage elk numbers on and adjacent to private land, it’s no wonder polarization among interest groups is reaching a boiling point. The recently proposed, unnecessary “elk shoulder seasons” are the latest boiling pot ingredient. Part of the reason for the divisiveness on these issues lies in the fact that FWP has never established sideboards to the public trust. A solid commitment by FWP leadership to publicly develop those sideboards is necessary.

Public ownership of wildlife and wildlife must be managed by science, not opinion, as a public trust by FWP. Fair and equitable allocation of licenses and permits for Montana residents must be maintained first with up to 10 percent for nonresidents. Privatization schemes must be resisted.

Without this emphasis on the public trust, commercialization and privatization will continue eroding the public trust and focus on season structure and license/permit allocations favoring privatization and commercial interests will continue both inside and outside of the Legislature. Public understanding of the Montana’s Public Trust Model is crucial. We must:
  • Institute a public trust educational program component into hunter education.
  • Develop a private land/public partnership where both contribute. This program would not be designed to replace the existing block management program, rather provide an additional tool to landowners. The “Hunting Heritage Partnership” represents a starting point.
  • Continue focus on Montana’s fair-chase, ethical hunting and fishing tradition; law enforcement that stresses that ethic; the democracy of hunting opportunity for Montana residents; continuation of the five-week season structure (with extensions for qualifying landowners) as the basis of sound wildlife management.
  • Work with private landowners and sportsmen, to recognize the significance of various diseases and identify the role of problematic wildlife concentrations (harboring).
While not all inclusive, the following key elements have been established by past statute and FWP Commissions: continue with existing game damage qualification criteria (with no monetary compensation); prohibit winter big game feeding; continuation of no baiting policy; no game farms; no high fence hunting; continue to prohibit license transferability and limited entry elk and antelope archery seasons which limit nonresident participation at up to 10% must continue.  

Preserving Montana’s Public Trust Model will accomplish the business of “We the People.”

J.W. Westman of Park City is a longtime hunter and Montana outdoors advocate.

FWP proposal would reduce public hunting opportunity

FWP proposal would reduce public hunting opportunity by Joe Perry

February 6, 2016

Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the press and the governor have promoted elk shoulder seasons as successful. By what metric? If it’s just killing public trust elk, it begs the question: If the same level of access were available during the general season, would it not have achieved the same results or better?

It’s disingenuous to call this success without any data regarding the original objectives and performance measures. Most of us were led to believe it was a package deal. Obviously, we were misled.

Shoulder seasons, by definition, are any season outside of the regular five-week general hunting season. We’ve had shoulder seasons for many years. The differences are the shoulder seasons now proposed are for entire hunt districts, not just localized areas within hunt districts. Up till now, in order to have a shoulder season or any other game damage or management season action, a landowner must meet qualification criteria that incorporates access during the five-week season into any management action. The newly proposed shoulder seasons by contrast ignore landowner qualification criteria. The only requirement is that the hunt district be over objective. This is wholly unacceptable.

This dynamic allows outfitters to sell public trust bull elk without allowing any public access to properties during the archery and general seasons. So elk congregate on these lands and from surrounding lands hunted by the public. The public is denied an opportunity to harvest these critters and elk congregate in large bunches, increasing danger of easy disease transmission. Because outfitters harvest almost entirely bulls, the antlerless animals tend to become over objective.

There are instances of elk not being present during the general season, only to show up later. Those folks need some help. But it seems a huge part of the driving force is from private lands outfitted during the general with little or no public hunting access.

In proposing to jump from five pilot projects to 44 hunt districts, has FWP done the homework with the landowners as required? Is there buy-in from landowners who know the original goals and objectives? Have we changed the rules on the metrics used to evaluate shoulder seasons? What happened to the measurable objectives decided upon earlier?

What is the cause of these over objective numbers? Elk hunting interest, being what it is in Montana, it's difficult to understand hunt districts being 200 percent to 300 percent over objective and growing at 15 percent per year. This screams harboring, plain and simple.

Would local businesses not flourish during the regular season if access weren’t an issue?

We think it is only fair to let the public know if rules are changed. Let's slow down, stop the rhetoric, stay the course, stick to the original rules, collect the data and present it honestly and factually. Last but not least, why are some wanting to treat our public elk as a private commodity during hunting season and pregnant varmints after the season? We find this very distasteful.

Joe Perry of Brady writes for the Montana Sportsman's Alliance. He was appointed this month by Gov. Steve Bullock to the Montana Private Land Public Wildlife Advisory Council.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Back to the Future: The Public Lands Transfer by Mike Korn

January 23, 2016


The current national drive for the federal government to divest itself of lands managed by the Forest Service, BLM, US Fish and Wildlife Service, etc., just keeps roiling along. The armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters outside of Burns, Oregon has placed the issue in the spotlight again, this time interwoven with radical political ideologies. Yet, ever since the first formal dedication of National Parks, Forests and public lands there have been numerous efforts to seize them and put them in “other” hands. Extreme political groups have been a part of these efforts as well. In other words, this is nothing new; we have been here before.

Resistance to public land designation existed when Yellowstone was first established in the 1872 and moved into the new century in various forms and iterations. Corporations fought it because it limited their empires and unregulated, monopolistic interests. States and local groups howled and fought as they perceived a loss of their rights, either framed as constitutional, individual or purely economic. A huge amount of land fraud occurred at the turn of the 20th century in attempts to circumvent public designations of federal and State Trust lands. A very good overview of this as well as a history of public land designation can be found on the US Forest Service’s website under The First Century FS 260.

In Montana, Copper Kings and railroads made repeated efforts to gain possession of public lands. This was done in spite of railroads already being handed thousands upon thousands of acres of land from the federal government, ostensibly to “open the West”. The Northern Pacific Railroad alone was beneficiary to about 47 million acres granted to in the 1860’s by the United States. More recently, these NP lands in Montana came under the ownership of Plum Creek Timber- now Weyerhaeuser. The recent merger of the two made Weyerhaeuser one of, if not the largest private landholder in the United States. But in those early years corporate entities never lost sight of the remaining millions of acres of “unclaimed” ground under federal authority. Corporations like the Anaconda Co. bought, appropriated and outright stole land en masse for their empires well into the 1920’s.

One notable grab occurred in Montana and Idaho during the Great Burn –the Fires of 1910. At that time, the railroads and other Captains of Industry (or Robber Barons, depending on your perspective) colluded to keep federal help from being sent west to fight the fires. Their thinking was that if the federal lands and forests burned to a cinder, all value would be gone and worthless. At that point they could then step in and buy up public ground at fire sale prices- literally. In spite of extraordinary political pressure exerted in Washington D.C. to hamstring efforts to deal with the fire and its subsequent impacts, the lands remained in federal hands and in some ways, protected. At the same time it only marked a change in federal forest policy but the beginning of a major shift (backwards) in the conservation and social policies of Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. It also heralded the start of huge changes in the national political landscape, the results of which are still being felt today throughout the West.

Another factor revolves around the social economics and politics of the West. Since settlement by non-Native peoples resource and extractive industries have comprised a large, critical part of Western economies. These industries were and continue to be volatile and highly subject to the whims and winds of the resource markets and politics. Over time, many of have gone from providing modest, and in some places, even very good livings for rural Westerners to almost nothing. “Boom and bust,” and “ghost town” are terms that are as much a part of the West’s history and vocabulary as cowboy, miner and logger. As a result, those who work in these industries are cast into horrible, scary economic and social situations. People seek explanations as to why and how—and often, something or someone to blame. Monolithic federal government, “environmentalists,” racial and ethnic minorities and a litany of other “outsiders” provide convenient, immediate, uncomplicated answers to far more complex questions. It is at such times demagogues often rise to the fore, connecting the dots from local issues to other, supposedly larger problems, cynically trying exploit the situation for their own purposes. White supremacism is just one of those extrapolated philosophies. The Ku Klux Klan was a mighty force in the West in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, playing on people’s fears about their social and economic futures. The “Sagebrush Rebellion” and then the “Shovel Brigade” that arose from the Great Basin in the 1970’s and 1990’s mixed public land ownership and management with constitutionalist politics. Groups with radical anti-government philosophies grew from major shifts in the lumber industries in California, Oregon, Idaho and northwest Montana. Again, we’re witnessing the sowing of fertile ground with the seeds of fear, hate and doubt for the future. The tattered remnants of fringe political groups have hitched their wagons to the “local control” issue and are gaining support from more “respectable” forces in the halls of the Legislature and the Congress, giving them a peculiar aura of credibility.

As the debate plays out, it is important that the Conservation movement in Montana as well as across the West keep the discussion firmly focused when responding to this “new” assault on public lands. How the arguments are being framed -- botched management, a growing sense of overbearing, convoluted, unresponsive, befuddled government, etc—presents some new, twists. But many of the solutions coming forth labeled as “ just plain common sense,” ranging from local control, and the fundamental legal basis for public land to patriotism and getting back to “real” American values are the repackaging of old snake oil remedies that have been handed out for almost 150 years. The seemingly new algorithm needs to be met head-on with the knowledge and confidence that the conservation movement has been down this road before- and prevailed, both legally and practically. Public sentiment still remains against federal transfer. In a recent bi-partisan poll, the annual Colorado College Conservation in the West Survey found 58 percent of interviewed registered voters across the region opposed the divesting of federal lands. In Montana, 59 percent opposed the move.

And, as in times before, many of the answers will likely lie in providing support and thoughtful, constructive, resource based ideas, methods and legislative support to federal and state managers. In doing so, assisting them to work through the issues; to untangle what have unquestionably become cumbersome, gridlocked, often seemingly futile bureaucracies and contradictory policies. There are many good people in those organizations who embrace a conservation ethic as passionately as we do. They need our support and ideas on how to proceed and succeed.

We all see – and in many cases agree on- the problems. It’s how they get resolved that will determine the future of public lands. The conservation community must offer support to the historic mission of those people and agencies responsible for their oversight. At the same time, we must strive to keep them honest in the process and ensure that they not, by the enormity of the task at hand or simple convenience, lose sight of their fundamental responsibilities on behalf of the resources under their stewardship and ultimately, the legacy of the public trust.

Mike Korn
MSA Consultant/Contributor

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Elk Shoulder Season FWP Commission Public Comment Jan. 2016

January 20, 2016

Montana FWP Commission
1420 E. Sixth Avenue
Helena, MT 59602

Dear Chairman Vermillion & Commissioners:

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance formed as a result of the disastrous 2011 Legislative session where we saw more than 150 bad pieces of legislation against the resident Montana hunters and anglers. From those humble beginning we have grown in numbers and strength even though we charge no one for joining the Alliance nor do we have a membership list showcasing how many of us there are. We have followers from basically every geographic region of our great state. Most MSA followers are private property owners; believe strongly in private property rights, as we believe steadfastly in public property rights as well. MSA members are strong believers in the Public Trust Doctrine and the Montana Model of Fish & Wildlife Conservation. The Montana Model has a long, successful history of achievements that came through involvement from many Montanans.

There are several items Montana Sportsmen Alliance would like to comment on to this Commission. Our voice is for the Montana resident hunters regarding our comment. The first comment is regarding the “Shoulder Season” proposals. We were opposed to SB 245, late season elk hunts, this past Legislative session, we saw them as another iteration of the same unsuccessful attempts we all remember from 10 plus years ago, those past late seasons were by and large unsuccessful by reason of one main point, lack of reasonable public access. If the public is kept from pursuing their public trust resource, management is most difficult for the department. MSA sees the shoulder seasons as nothing more than those past unsuccessful late seasons. MSA members are very diverse and have seen areas in our state that are now being proposed for shoulder seasons. Although not all inclusive, we see areas proposed where little or no public access is allowed, including the East side of the Crazy Mountains, Drummond area, Dillon area, Little Snowies and the White Sulfur areas. Many of these, and others as well must be removed from shoulder season consideration.

MSA members look at 5 pilot program shoulder seasons and ask the question of how do we go from a beginning of 5 pilots to proposals for 44 hunt districts? It is our belief that the department has gone to full-scale implementation. Show us the data that was collected and analyzed, something Montanans were told would happen to ensure those pilots were doing what they were supposed to be doing. MSA holds a firm belief that the department was and still is using a top down heavy hand in having the Regions come up with proposals. We suspect this from the large amount of proposals coming from hunt districts, in the past, that have been off limits to the public hunters, why would those folks out in the hinterlands propose something that sets up a fail situation as it has in the past? MSA opposes ramping up to 44 hunt districts from the 5 pilots, especially when the only criteria is a hunt district being over objective and there being no present data available that would indicate the widespread implantation of 44 shoulder seasons. Extreme care must be exercised from this Commission regarding shoulder seasons. You must vote for Montana, not commercial interests.

MSA is strong believer in the 5 week season structure as the main tool for managing numbers of elk. Most of MSA have been around long enough, we have a historical perspective, and we’ve witnessed what has happened on the ground and in Legislative sessions. Some main points supporting the 5 week season:

We talk often of the 5 week season; this discussion is far more than just the 5 week portion. The 5 week season came as the main tool in the toolbox; however there are many other tools included in that toolbox that come attached to the 5 week season.
Any discussion of the 5 week season must include a comprehensive answer. The 5-week season was not created as an individual action item, but rather included the following:
  • The general season was liberalized in all elk hunting districts that were over objective;

  • Management seasons, season extensions, the hunt roster, and landowner qualification criteria were simultaneously created as part of this process;

  • A second elk license (b license) was created a few years later;

  • The elk plan included all of these aspects of the proposal into a commission approved environmental assessment that received significant public review and support.

Therefore, we believed then and we believe today, that landowners have been provided with appropriate tools to address over-objective elk population issues if they choose to utilize the available tools. However, since elk are a public trust resource, and since this list of tools has been provided, we felt strongly, and still do, that landowner qualification criteria is a requisite part of the management effort.

Shoulder seasons by contrast, ignore landowner qualification criteria, and the only requirement being that the hunting district be over objective for a shoulder season to be implemented. This is unacceptable!

Suggestions on shoulder season criteria…..

Have shoulder seasons terminate after two years. Given that commissioners term out before 4 years and some fwp folks retire, 2 years provides an assurance some  folks that made the decision are still around.  There is a huge push to get these on the ground statewide with no data in place and no report to the public.

Please eliminate the obvious loophole to extending these shoulder seasons without meeting criteria.  This seems to be an opening for abuse by MOGA and legislator meddling  and pressuring for special treatment for their buddies.  It seems ludicrous to use an exemption clause negating the other 4 criteria.  

The next item in the tentative proposals is Hunt District 426 being pulled from the bundling package from years ago. That bundling project took a large amount of time and effort by then Commissioner Colton and Vermillion. They devoted a large amount of time and effort to come up with something that so called kept “peace in the family”. MSA believes this to be an action to remove, one piece at a time from our public trust, something that was democratically decided by Montana hunters through a broad public process. We strongly suggest leaving HD 426 in the bundle where it was placed.

The last item MSA wishes to comment on is the Hunt District 313 proposal to limit that district to 75 permits, we support this as we believe in biology, not the entitlements of commercial operators. We just can’t support unlimited permits for this area. We strongly support limiting permit numbers in this area; Montanans have broadly accepted this elsewhere. We stand behind the biologist’s recommendations and urge the Commission to do the same! The Montana Resident Hunter has always been willing to make sacrifices for the resource. Commercial interests must respect the resource they have abused.

A discussion that always seems to be lacking in Legislative sessions and proposals, such as these before us are the elements of disease transmission. At some point a broad, honest discussion must take place. Part of the problem with even having to discuss these proposals comes from the fact that harboring of wildlife has been taking place for a long time and continues on today’s landscape unabated. This unnatural concentration harms neighboring landowners, domestic livestock and our precious public trust wildlife. We can no longer bury our collective heads in the sand-this huge issue must be addressed by all stakeholders.

In closing MSA appreciates the ability to be part of this process, a main tenet of the Montana Model. We wholeheartedly support science based decisions and do have a firm grasp of social conditions regarding these issues. MSA members are for the most part private property owners and have never attempted to pry our way onto private property, and never will. However, if private landowners don’t use the tools given to them to control numbers they must suffer from their own decisions and the impending consequences as wildlife is a public trust resource.

Respectfully submitted,

Montana Sportsmen Alliance

HD 313 FWP Commission Public Comment

 December 9, 2015

To:Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
Comment on the Karen Loveless Recommendations for HD 313

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance is appreciative of the chance to comment.  We subscribe to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation as well as the Montana Model.  Science based management decisions are critical.

Our biologist for the area, Karen Loveless, has done an excellent job on this proposal.  She has her facts straight and her documentation in order.  We urge the Dept. to accept her proposals and correct this wrong in the bull elk segment of the herd.

Informed sportsmen are willing to take tough measures even if it means giving up opportunity for awhile to correct wrongs.  Bull elk are important to all of us.  All of us deserve an equal opportunity to harvest and/or enjoy them.  That includes folks that enjoy seeing these magestic critters season long.  Yes, that means tourists in Yellowstone Park too.  Are we not denying those folks opportunity too?

There are biological consequences as well.  This is a poor situation for the genetic diversity of this herd and the natural selection that is supposed to take place.  Would a rancher go out and kill all his biggest and best bulls and leave their offspring to interbreed?  You are hearing from some uninformed and untrained pseudo-biologists that dispute Karen’s data.   Don’t be fooled, their interpretation is incorrect.  We resent the personal and professional attacks on our trained biologists and would hope informed outfitters take responsibility for their actions as sportsmen take responsibility for ours.  Lets correct these problems and then get back to managing this herd as the iconic herd it is. Population dynamics are fluid. Bull numbers are now low and need to be adjusted up through a restriction in opportunity for a period of time. That will provide a more diverse age structure over time that will have both ecological and social benefits for the Northern Range Herd. Limited permits are a preferred course of action.  We think it's important to acknowledge limited permits will change but not eliminate how outfitters do business. We suggest that the Dept. define the exit criteria for moving out of permits.

As hunters we are proud to live and work in a state where the Fish and Wildlife Commission, when challenged with responding to a biological issue that can impact hunter opportunity, has invariably sided with the biological resource. We urge you to continue in that vein with this proposal .

Montana Sportsmen Alliance