Elections have consequences. The Governor, through his appointments, and the Legislature, through their actions, can make changes that affect policy and established programs. When those changes have significant impacts on public trust resources and compromise the programs designed to manage those resources, the average Montanan may want to take notice.

When those changes are poorly conceived and bungled in their delivery; when those changes are at times fiscally irresponsible and ignore the professional expertise within an agency; and when those changes benefit the few and not the many, Montanans need to consider taking action.

The current administration at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been complicit in all of the above. An agency once held in high esteem nationally for its professional approach to wildlife and fisheries management is losing its way because of actions by the director’s office. The Commission’s credibility has been compromised by conflicting communications and less than transparent decision-making.

There is an overt attempt to dismantle the Wildlife and Fisheries Divisions, to minimize the input of staff at the Helena and regional levels, and to reduce effective communication with and by the public. Much of this is not visible. Much of this has been done behind closed doors. Much of this has been at the expense of important relationships. Much of this is just a poor way to do business.

The 2022 hunting regulation season-setting process included many of the above mentioned issues. Rather than use the experience vested in the Wildlife Division and the regional field staff, decisions were made by the Director’s Office. Communications were abrupt and recommendations were changed without notice. Input was rarely requested and often ignored.

Public participation was limited, even from long-standing and successful local working groups. Even after significant public concerns were expressed with issues specific to elk hunting regulations, the Department and the Commission chose to move forward with regulations that often did not benefit Montana hunters.

What has always set Montana apart from many other states is the active engagement of its citizens at the community and state level. Passions run high when it comes to setting elk hunting seasons, managing a stretch of river for certain fish species or debating the merits of a conservation easement.

Those debates can be contentious because people care deeply about public trust resources, the landscapes that support them and the opportunities provided to enjoy them. You have high expectations and you show up. You want it done well. You expect it to be based on good information. While some consider that a problem, our conservation heritage is stronger because of your involvement.

If you find this situation alarming, get involved. If you don’t, the “Montana Parks and Outdoor Recreation Department” is just around the corner. Odds are this will not be in the best interest of the public trust.

Jeff Herbert, Montana Sportsmen Alliance from Helena