Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing new elk management strategies to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their December 14th meeting. The proposal is a boon for private landowners and commercial outfitters at the direct expense of Montana elk hunters.

If you've been dreaming of drawing a coveted limited entry bull tag, your dreams are jeopardized by FWP’s new proposal. But if you are wealthy or own a lot of land, you can hunt those bulls without entering a drawing like us common folk.

The current proposal would reduce the number of randomly drawn bull permits by 50% for hunters on some public lands, while allowing unlimited harvest of "trophy" bull elk on private land. Some landowners feel that they are harboring too many elk on their property, and FWP refers to those areas as “over objective.” “Objectives” for elk numbers are set by landowner tolerance, and don’t reflect how many animals the land will actually support.

FWP’s stated goal is to decrease the number of elk on private land, but this proposal won’t help control herd sizes. Population size is controlled by the number of cows in the herd. If FWP was serious about helping private landowners solve their supposed “too many elk” problem, they would issue unlimited cow tags and drastically limit bull tags, but they are proposing the opposite.

The real result of this proposal is to make it easier for private landowners to sell multi-thousand-dollar, commercial bull elk hunts.

The guides and outfitters who organize commercial hunts are a huge driver of our economy and an important part of our heritage. FWP is right to consider the valuable services they provide when making management decisions, but they also have a duty to work in the public trust and manage resources for multiple users—not prioritize one group over another.

Landowners do have a right to be included in elk management decisions. Montana's elk—like all wildlife—are owned equally by all Montanans. Public land hunters have just as much right to consideration by FWP as private landowners. This fundamental wildlife management concept is essential for preserving our hunting heritage for generations to come.

FWP’s proposal is clearly an attempt by some monied interests to exploit bull elk for their personal gain, while thumbing their noses at Montana hunters. It contradicts Montana's hunting tradition, which treats hunters and landowners as partners in wildlife management. It is not fact-based, and it undermines the belief that wildlife is a public resource for all Montanans.

Similar approaches died during the last Legislative session, thanks to vocal opposition from elk hunters across the state. Unfortunately, these bad ideas can be enacted by just four of the governor's handpicked political appointees on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Please contact the Commissioner for your district and tell them you oppose privatizing wildlife.

Marilyn Marler (D-Missoula) is an avid hunter and represents House District 90 in the Montana Legislature.