New deer permit area near Libby considered

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A buck stands watch in fresh snow. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake file)

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission may create a new permit area in Hunting District 103 southeast of Libby.

The proposal, which comes from a citizens’ initiative, would require hunters to draw a permit before shooting a mule deer in the area. Neil Anderson, Fish, Wildlife, and Parks’s Wildlife Program Manager, expected it to make five to 15 permits available per year.

The initiative already claims the support of 454 hunters and Lincoln County’s sheriff and commissioners. One of those elected officials, commissioner Mike Cole, told the Daily Inter Lake that “some of these areas have high access and easy hunting ... and I just think you need to curtail that for benefit of the herd.”

In particular, the initiative aims to increase the deer population’s buck-to-doe ratio and the age structure of the harvested population, thereby providing “hunting opportunity for older-aged bucks in a limited number of districts offering reasonable public access.”

George Mercer, a spokesperson for the group that brought the proposal, explained that “there’s a good portion [of hunters] in the state of Montana ... who want the opportunity to shoot an older-aged trophy buck.”

“We are simply trying to establish an area closer to Libby” for that purpose.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is skeptical. “There are a lot of factors that affect wildlife and survival, and hunting is just one of those,” said Anderson.

“I think it’s reasonable to expect that if you reduce hunting by a bit, you would see more bucks on the landscape, and increase the buck-doe ratio, but we’re not yet sure.”

The agency voiced its doubts in comments submitted on the proposal. It’s also concerned that the permit area would drive hunters elsewhere, and that it could conflict with efforts to research the deer population and manage it for chronic wasting disease.

“I do believe well over half the points they’ve raised, our group seriously disagrees with,” Mercer said. But he also stressed that the group has had a “really good dialogue” with Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists over the 12 months the plan has been in development.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on the proposal at its Feb. 15, 2018 meeting in Helena. If approved, the permit area would take effect for the 2018 hunting season and remain until removed or changed by the commission.

Members of the public may view documents related to the initiative, find a schedule of public meetings that will discuss it, and submit comments at http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/publicComments/2017/2018-2019deerSeasons.html. All comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 24.

For more information, call 406--444-2612, or send an email to fwpwld@mt.gov.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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