By Susan Dunlap - October 17, 2018 - Originally published in the Montana Standard.
With rifle season starting this Saturday, a campground at Wolverine Creek Road in southern Beaverhead County will be ready for hunters in a new way.
Agency officials, ranchers and a group of hunters have worked out a plan to reinvent the campground at Wolverine Creek Road with a new hunter-friendly camping rule, signage and gates in the hope that compromise on all sides will lead to better sportsmen behavior and decrease contention between the groups.
Hunters will be allowed to camp legally for 16 days. State trust land allows only two-day camping, which is out-of-step with camping regulations on federal lands. Federal land allows for around two weeks.
Martin Balukas, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokesperson, said the agency made a “real effort to say you can do things here.”
Wolverine Creek Road is about an hour southeast of Dillon in the Centennial Valley.
In exchange, hunters and hunting groups agreed to give up an unnamed road that had previously been available just west of Wolverine Creek Road. A path heading north from Wolverine Creek Road is now also closed.
But in addition to Wolverine Creek Road, which also heads north across pasture land to the Forest Service, hunters also get another legal road opened that had been closed previously but hunters reportedly used illegally.
The Matador Ranch agreed to allow access across a small portion of its ranch so hunters could legally travel up the previously illegal road to Forest Service land. That road is also west of Wolverine Creek Road. It will have signage up before Saturday. All of these roads are off North Centennial Valley Road.
A new kiosk at Wolverine Creek Road, placed in reinforced concrete to try to ensure hunters don’t tear it down, shows a map that details where hunters can legally travel.
The extended stay at the Wolverine Creek Road campground will only be available from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 to protect sage grouse. Balukas said there is sage grouse breeding ground in the area but the bird breeds in the spring.
Grazing occurs primarily in summer and early fall.
Working out a compromise everyone could live with was important to the DNRC, Balukas said.
“We need to keep cattle grazing to maintain a revenue stream,” Balukas said. “Our job is to keep revenue coming in for the trust.”
Grazing leases on state trust land generated $14.1 million in revenue for the state in 2017. That money goes to Montana’s public schools and other endowed institutions.
Kevin Faron, Montana Chapter coordinator of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said he hopes for a positive outcome with this new effort at Wolverine Creek Road because the contention there between ranchers and hunters is just a microcosm of a larger debate all over southwest Montana.
“The entire place is a hotbed,” Faron said by phone Tuesday.
Faron said his group is supportive of this effort and that multiple-use public land requires that the multiple uses are respected by each group.
Agency people and ranchers speak of hunters shooting, tearing down or burning signs and kiosks providing information to them.
Worse than that, hunters reportedly caused the loss of at least $2,200 last year to a local rancher by killing a cow and leaving it dead in the road.
“Our biggest issue is people leaving gates open,” said Jordan Herrera, a cowboy working the Santana Ranch in the Centennial Valley.
Herrera was busy working to get ready for the hunters who, he says, will be at the spot as early as Wednesday in advance of rifle season starting.
A group of hunters, agency officials, ranchers and ranch hands met last summer at this same campground spot to talk out the issues.
There is now a lot of hope hanging on this new solution.
“I hope 16 days will make them happy and appreciate more,” Herrera said. “It’s a gamble, I guess.”