United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM, wealthy GOP landowners) are intent on privatizing Montana’s elk. After not getting their way in the 2021 Legislature, or with the 2022 Fish and Wildlife Commission, they are now suing unless Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks throws out the 2022 hunting regulations and implements UPOM’s wishes.
That would mean killing up to 50,000 elk as quickly as possible (through landowner tags) and allowing landowners to kill elk whenever they feel like elk threaten their property.
Wildlife are a public resource, one of our proudest assets in Montana. Elk belong to all Montanans. Our ability to harvest game is not meant to be based on wealth, land ownership or connections in high places.
It’s obvious from the GOP administration’s actions and the landowners’ lawsuit that they reject that part of our Montana heritage. Increasingly, access to public wildlife is limited by private landowners who disdain Montana hunters.
The wealthy landowners’ lawsuit would be laughable if it wasn’t so horrifying. They contend that public hunting requires “landowners to throw their gates wide open to strangers, including dangerous and reckless hunters or people with a reputation for damaging private property.”
I heard this absurd claim repeatedly from GOP legislators and the FWP director last session. I am frankly tired of hearing it, and it’s simply not true.
We have excellent programs on the books to connect public hunters with private landowners in a cooperative relationships built on decades of collaborative wildlife management. As an example, Block Management gives landowners a lot of control over who comes onto their property.
Landowners have the option of letting people sign themselves in, but they can also require prospective hunters to meet them in person to get written permission, or they can delegate that task to FWP staff. Landowners can also designate which portions of their land are off limits, and they can limit the number of hunters per day, and they can exclude calendar days. The landowner has a lot of control. It is a wonderful program. That is why I sponsored and passed a bill to help fund Block Management.
I am grateful to the many Montana ranching families who have granted me and my husband access through Block Management over the years. I don’t think families like these are a part of this lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that elk are causing expensive damage. Fortunately, Montana also has the Game Damage Hunt Program, a very straightforward solution to this problem. When necessary FWP can arrange for public hunters to come and harvest does or cows from private land for population control.
My husband got a doe this way and it sounds like it was a great experience for everyone involved (except the doe). I sign up for game damage hunts but I haven’t been selected yet. I am ready to come harvest a cow elk from any private landowner who is experiencing game damage. So are a lot of other Montana hunters.
Let’s be honest. The wealthy landowners in this lawsuit are not worried about game damage. If they were, they would use the programs we already have. What they want is for Montana to change its laws and regulations so they can personally profit off a public resource. And they aren’t above denigrating regular Montanans at every turn to get their way.
Instead of bending to the their will, the GOP Administration and FWP Director should start promoting Montana hunting traditions and values. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is going to happen. Montana hunters have stood up to this GOP agenda in the legislature, and at the Fish and Wildlife Commission hearings.
Now it is time to stand up to them at the ballot box. Please vote out the legislators who are hell bent on erasing Montana’s proud hunting heritage.
Rep. Marilyn Marler (D-Missoula) represents House District 90 in the Montana Legislature, and is a biologist and hunter.