“Bulls for Billionaires.” Are Montana’s 454 Permits a Step Toward Privatizing the State’s Elk Herd?

On the face of it, the deal that billionaire Dan Wilks got last fall from Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department last fall was underwhelming.

Wilks, the non-resident owner of one of Montana’s largest ranches, received a permit from the state agency to hunt trophy bulls on his central Montana land. In exchange, he selected a Montana resident hunter who had drawn a bull permit in the area of Wilks’ ranch and agreed to provide that hunter free access to his 179,000-acre ranch. Additionally, he allowed two cow-elk hunters chosen by FWP to hunt the ranch, which occupies the timbered shoulders of the elk-rich Little Snowy Mountains.

The terms of the agreement were spelled out in a contract between the state wildlife agency and Wilks, a billionaire who lives in Cisco, Texas. The law that allows this tags-for-access agreement was passed by the Montana Legislature back in 2001. The agreement, commonly called a 454, comes from the bill number of that legislation.

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