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

Friday, February 5, 2016

MSA letter on Ducks Unlimited

November 30, 2015

Dale Hall, Chief Executive Officer, Ducks Unlimited
Paul Bonderson Jr., President, Ducks Unlimited
George Dunklin, Chairman of the Board, Ducks Unlimited 

I’m a retired Montana FWP wildlife biologist who spent the better part of my career engaged in migratory game bird management and habitat conservation at the state, flyway and national level. I have worked closely with Ducks Unlimited staff on a variety of initiatives, including some of the very first private lands projects to be delivered in the country. I have worked on a local DU committee, spoken at statewide DU events and ironically, am wearing a DU fleece zip-T as I write this letter. 
I’m an avid hunter and angler and an ardent conservationist who strongly endorses the public trust doctrine as it applies to our valuable fish and wildlife resources. This doctrine is foundational to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that DU has both contributed to and benefited from. Furthermore, I recognize and applaud the contributions by private landowners to these conservation efforts and the rights associated with their private property. 
With that said, I find your recent action to terminate the contract of E. Donnall Thomas Jr. incredibly disappointing on several levels. I will not delve into the specifics of this conflict other than to say that Montana sportsmen and women hold dear the culture of our hunting and fishing heritage and the constitutional and statutory elements like the Stream Access Law that sustain the waters of Montana and access to those waters as a public trust resource. These same men and women serve as the backbone of local DU Chapters, the heart and soul of the organization. 
As I consider terminating my long-term association with DU, I would like to pose several questions to you from an organization standpoint. How do you explain the dichotomy of your actions – on one hand strongly endorsing the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (November/December 2015 issue of Ducks Unlimited) and on the other, tacitly supporting an individual seeking not only to undermine public access to a public resource but in fact, to privatize it? By your actions it appears that DU places far greater value on the contributions of a wealthy donor and trustee than it does to the average angler/hunter from Montana who largely agrees with the premise of the article. What picture does that paint of a conservation organization built on the passion of its members? Will future actions/management decisions reflect a strong, publically engaged conservation ethic or one built around big money and exclusivity? 

Jeff Herbert
Montana Sportsmen Alliance