Any sort of animal can come up at a meeting of a Citizens Advisory Council. The Region 6 council of volunteer citizens who advise Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks considered creatures as small as flies and as large as buffalo at their meeting in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Tiny biting flies that transmit epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) to whitetail deer are a large reason, besides the brutal winter, why the deer population has crashed. Scott Thompson, a FWP biologist in the Malta area, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the deer from Frazer to Dodson had taken a 50 to 75 percent hit. No EHD was detected in mule deer and antelope, he said, but they suffered badly during the winter.
In response, hunting licenses have been slashed drastically in every hunting district in Region 6. The average cut across the region is 60 percent, Thompson said, but in some hunting districts, like 620, doe tags were cut 90 percent. There will be many fewer hunters and less money taken in licenses this year.
Two different elk working groups are active. A statewide Archery Elk Working Group is addressing concerns about recent legislative bills limiting archery elk hunting in the Missouri River Breaks and 22 other districts. There is also a local Missouri Breaks Elk Working Group, which has been discussing issues like quota changes, season changes and elk damage in hunting districts 620 through 632 since 1995.
Region 6 Supervisor Pat Gunderson introduced FWP’s new environmental assessment on relocating quarantined Yellowstone Park bison, which will be discussed in Glasgow on Monday, Oct. 19. The meeting is at the Civic Center at 7 p.m.
About 150 bison from Yellowstone Park have been quarantined for five years and repeatedly tested negative for brucellosis, the disease found in elk and bison that can cause cattle to abort their calves. Phase 1 is now finished and it is time to go into Phase 2, moving the buffalo to interim locations for another five years or so of testing. After that, they are intended to be a source of genetically pure bison for other herds.
The problem is finding interim locations. The draft plan names four possible sites, two wildlife management areas that would require thousands of dollars in fencing and other infrastructure, and two reservations that already have buffalo herds, Fort Belknap and Fort Peck.
Ranchers are reluctant to have bison as neighbors because they still fear brucellosis would endanger the selling of their livestock and because bison are impossible to completely contain in fences.
Several council members and people in the audience criticized the management of bison on the reservations, claiming the animals aren’t fed properly and stray out of their pastures.
Looking into the future, the panel questioned the destination of these bison.
“Are they going to end up being wild buffalo?” one person asked. “Is that the ultimate goal? It would be devastating to our crops and property.”
“We don’t feel secure on our land at all,” said another person.”Once we get those free-roaming bison, it will pretty much shut us all down.”
The meeting also featured staff presentations on the region’s block management program, the response of various fish species to this year’s flooding in the Milk and Missouri rivers, a review of the pending Fort Peck Fisheries Management Plan, and updates on the aquatic invasive species program and the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery.