FWP commission hears proposed bills as two commissioners step aside
(Missoula Current) As the Legislative session nears, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will be asking for a few rule and commission changes.
During Tuesday’s FWP commission meeting, Jana Waller announced that she would not be the FWP Region 2 commissioner representing the Missoula region after this year because she’s moving to Utah. Waller currently lives in Florence.
“When I was appointed by the governor in 2021, I was short-termed and my term is up in January. I’ve decided to respectfully decline a renewal of my term,” Waller said. “Game management is definitely a complicated science, but one thing is for sure and that is people are very passionate about Montana and our wildlife.”
Gov. Greg Gianforte assigned Waller as the Region 2 commissioner in Oct 2021 after the 2021 Legislature enlarged the commission to seven members to represent each FWP region. Prior to the change, the commission had only five members with one commissioner representing Region 1 and 2.
Gianforte will have to nominate someone new for the Legislature to approve, and the three people who applied along with Waller to be the Region 2 commissioner in 2021 might have a second chance.
According to documents requested last year from the Governor’s office, Lt. Gov. Kristin Juras asked a few other people to apply for the position, including Missoula Real Estate agent Theresa Lunn, originally of western Washington state; former FWP wildlife biologist Craig Jourdonnais, who now works for the MPG Ranch in Florence; and Lyndon Nielsen of Corvallis, also a former FWP biologist.
Region 3 commissioner Patrick Byorth of Bozeman is also reaching the end of his term this year. Commissioners serve a four-year term, and former Gov. Steve Bullock assigned Byorth to the commission in 2019, making him the only commissioner nominated by the previous administration.
Bullock also appointed Andrew McKean to be the commissioner for northeast Montana in 2020 after commissioner Logan Brower moved away. But in February 2021, by a 7-4 vote, Republicans in the Legislative Senate Fish and Game committee rejected McKean’s renewal.
Byorth is not term-limited and could serve another four-year stint on the commission. But commission watchers think that he would meet the same fate in the Republican-dominated 2023 Legislature as McKean.
Byorth appeared to anticipate that, because he also bid the commission goodbye on Tuesday but gave his farewell a positive spin. He said Montana is actually doing pretty well because when he was hunting and fishing as a boy, there were a lot fewer elk, birds and native trout.
But he cautioned that keeping that bounty requires a three-legged stool: dedicated and trained FWP staff that are allowed to manage wildlife according to the best available science; an informed and engaged public; and good habitat, which depends partly on the cooperation of private landowners.
“At our best, the commission works with all three entities. We have to base our decisions on good science if we want to perpetuate our wildlife. We have to listen and engage the public as much as possible, even as difficult as it can be. Finally, we do, have and will continue to respect both private and public land as providers of habitat,” Byorth said. “So, in the big picture it can be very painful on the commission. But it’s that chaos and that passion that is the miracle of Montana’s wildlife.
“It’s been a great honor for me. Just having been part of what I consider an amazing success story in Montana wildlife where we argue more now about abundance than we do scarcity.”
During the comment period, several members of the public stepped up to thank Byorth for caring about wildlife. There are no indications yet who Gianforte might choose to replace Byorth.
FWP special projects manager and legislative liaison Deb O’Neill listed a few things FWP would like the Legislature to change, although many are just bills to clean up language in various rules.
One thing FWP wants is to eliminate the 24-hour wait period required after buying wolf licenses. Currently, people have to wait 24 hours after buying a tag before they can kill a wolf. That was intended to prevent people who killed a wolf without a tag from buying a license the same day.
Last session, the Legislature eliminated the 12-hour wait period that was required between buying and filling bear and lion tags.
Anticipating the delisting of grizzly bears, FWP wants the Legislature to pass a bill saying FWP will “manage grizzly bear populations at levels to maintain the delisted status,” O’Neill said.
“We borrowed language from I believe it was Senate Bill 200 having to do wolves when they were delisted. The Fish and Wildlife Service was comfortable with that language,” O’Neill said.
Last session, FWP backed a bill to bump the payment cap $25,000 for landowners participating in Block Management. This session, FWP wants to double that cap, so if one landowner allows access to enough hunters during the season, they could receive $50,000 from sportsmen's dollars.
FWP also wants to define drones as aircraft so people can’t use a drone to survey an area and hunt the area on the same day.
Finally, FWP wants to remove the requirement that hunters must attach their validated paper tags to an animal after they shoot it and allow hunters to just possess the tag instead.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.