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 seasonsWhen 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.
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).
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.