Montana BHA Comments to EQC on 454 Agreements

Montana BHA delivered comments via Zoom during March 22's Environmental Quality Council meeting regarding the Public Elk Hunting Access Agreements. Below are our comments, delivered by Montana BHA vice chair Thomas Baumeister.

The portion is red was prepared by not delivered in the interest of time.

Mr. Chair and members of the EQC, my name is Thomas Baumeister – B-A-U-M-E-I-S-T-E-R. I am the volunteer Vice-Chair of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. We come before you today hoping to fix the 454 agreements. Thank you for the opportunity.

We are concerned about the overall trend to privatize and commercialize our elk - the ramping up of the 454s is the latest attempt at this. Using 2021 as our guide, the program amounts to little more than handing out bull permits to the wealthy, while cow elk are left for the public to deal with. Director Worsech has pointed to these 454s as the answer to his repeated claim that landowners can’t get a permit to hunt elk on their own land, and therefore aren’t willing to let anyone else on to hunt.

Using the department’s own data, however, we found that in 2021, landowners, both resident and nonresident, actually had a roughly 80% chance of drawing a bull permit in the 38 permitted districts in regions 3-7. This amounts to a fourfold greater chance of drawing a permit than any hunter who doesn’t own 640 acres or more. In fact, some districts don’t even have enough landowners currently applying to reach the 15 percent set-aside quota. In other words, landowners, overwhelmingly, can actually hunt their properties and are at times leaving bull permits on the table, while the general public must wait years and sometimes decades for the opportunity to hunt these same premiere districts.

To be clear, the intent of the 454s as a management tool that also provides public opportunity is worth praising, but right now the perception is that it is a handout by the Director’s Office. Here, we offer four simple administrative fixes FWP could make today while still following the legislative language and ensure the Director is not again "caught with his pants down" this year:

  1. specify who is eligible to receive a bull permit – there are insufficient sideboards currently, the landowner can designate anyone to receive a bull permit, 
  2. implement a participation cap on the 454s – it simply cannot be an unlimited free-for-all,
  3. time the 454 approvals with the existing permit draw when everyone else has to apply by April 1st – issuing 454s during the hunting season, as happened last year, is unacceptable, and
  4. empower local biologists and landowners to work together to develop 454s – let’s make this about elk management, as intended, and not about extending favors.

FWP and others need to remember that 454s come with a ‘may’ rather than a ‘shall’ expectation which means the department has the authority to exercise oversight. Please hold FWP accountable to make those administrative changes today. Other structural improvements to the program will require your legislative leadership in 2023.

Thank you for adding the 454s to your agenda and for the opportunity to comment.

About Thomas Baumeister

Capital Chapter Leader - Montana BHA; Board Member - Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame; Board President - Orion -The Hunter's Institute

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