A citizens group met for the first time Thursday to begin the process of revising the 15-year-old statewide elk management plan in Montana.
Elk numbers in Montana have rebounded from about 8,000 in the 1920s to more than 150,000 today. But agreeing on how many of those ungulates there should be — and where — is a complicated affair.
Elk hunting is an economic driver in Montana, and puts food on the table for many families. But the species can also carry a disease called brucellosis that, if transmitted to cattle, can cause infertility and miscarriages, and strikes fear in the hearts of ranchers.
Managing elk also intersects with managing their predators — especially wolves.
"Elk management probably the most challenging issue we face at Fish, Wildlife and Parks," says Martha Williams, director of Montana Fish Wildife and Parks. "I think of traveling around and talking to landowners about grizzly bears, and often the first thing they say is, ‘Wait, can we talk about elk first?’"
The 14-member committee, selected from nearly 60 applications, consists of mostly ranchers, hunters, and conservationists. They’ll decide the principles that guide how the state manages its elk population for decades to come.
The group will meet twice more in December. The guidance they decide upon will be available for public review before FWP continues with the process of drafting the elk management plan.
The members of the committee are:
- Karie Decker - Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Drusca Kinkie - Rancher
- Ed Fryer - Montana Stockgrowers Association
- Patrick Roth
- Ren Gardner
- Casey Hackathorn - Trout Unlimited
- Everett Headley
- Kevin Koss - Rancher
- Joel LaLiberty - USDA NRCS Resource Conservationist
- Ali Morgan
- Justin Schaaf
- Mark Shwomeyer - Backcountry Hunters of America
- Marcus Strange - Montana Wildife Federation
- Dan Vermillion - Fish and game commissioner for SW Montana