Big Sky Connection -- Hunters and landowners are conflicted about how to approach elk management in Montana. A symposium this weekend seeks to come up with new policy ideas to address these conflicts. Comments from Kathy Hadley, board member, Montana Wildlife Federation. (pronouncer: Racicot is "roscoe")

  

Click on the image for the audio. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' update to the elk-management plan is expected to conclude in 2023. (Kyle T. Perry/Adobe Stock)

 Eric Tegethoff

August 12, 2022

Hunters, landowners, and wildlife managers are gathering in Montana to discuss the need for novel approaches to elk management.

The 2022 Elk Management Symposium takes place this Saturday. Kathy Hadley is a board member with Montana Wildlife Federation and participating in one of the event's panels.

She said the symposium is a chance to brainstorm about management policies and gather hunters like herself alongside landowners. Hadley broke down some of the major issues facing the state.

"In Montana, hunters want more elk and they want more hunting opportunities," said Hadley, "and the landowners want fewer elk in places where they're really causing some serious problems. And, of course, the outfitters want guarantees for all those services. So it's a pretty complex situation."

The symposium is taking place as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks begin to design a new elk-management plan. Hadley is part of a panel called "Shared Elk and Shared Values."

The event starts at 10 a.m. and will be streamed online. It's hosted by the Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition.

Hadley said in some ways the challenges the state faces now are similar to those it faced decades ago, with conflicts between different stakeholders.

In the 1990s, Gov. Marc Racicot convened a committee of hunters, landowners, outfitters and lawmakers.

Hadley said one of the ideas to come out of that was the Block Management program, which provides funds to landowners for impacts from hunters in exchange for opening up access to those lands.

"It has existed ever since then and people in Montana and non-residents who come here have six to seven million acres of private land to hunt," said Hadley, "and it all came from that committee of people sitting down and trying to come up with new ideas."

Hadley said block management and another program from the time - called Habitat Montana, which is used to purchase conservation easements - have been successful.

She said she hopes this symposium will spark another moment of innovative policymaking.

"If we can get Montana people neighbor to neighbor talking with each other about our wildlife shared resources," said Hadley, "maybe we'll be surprised with some new ideas from people we haven't heard from."