A Fish, Wildlife & Parks citizen's group plan to allow additional wildlife-proof fencing and a longer season for elk-control hunts in the Paradise Valley has been given a tentative go-ahead over sportsmen's protests.
On Thursday, FWP commissioners voted 3-2 to support an elk-control plan proposed by Paradise Valley ranchers to protect their cattle herds from the threat of brucellosis.
Up to 15 percent of elk in the greater Yellowstone area carry brucellosis, a reproductive disease that can cause cows to abort their calves.
All four brucellosis outbreaks that have occurred in Montana cattle since 2002 were traced back to elk. But cows can contract the disease only in the spring and early summer by coming into contact with aborted calves.
Public comment since the commissioner's February meeting included significant opposition, so the plan was adjusted slightly in response to comments.
Sportsmen opposed the plan because the option for control hunts would be extended to May 15, which gets into the calving season for elk.
The plan was tweaked to require landowners to get kill permits from FWP after May 1 and only FWP regional supervisors or commissioners can approve the permits.
Each landowner can have one kill permit per year and can kill three elk with a permit.
The FWP guidelines encouraged the removal of male elk in May to avoid contact with brucellosis. Female elk carrying calves are more of a threat.
The kill permits are supposed to discourage commingling and elk calving on private land.
The plan opens up the potential to fence larger pastures. Under current regulations, ranchers can put fencing only around small hay enclosures.
Sportsmen worry that extensive fencing could block wildlife migration corridors in the valley.
In addition, ranchers required that FWP pay for the fencing, so sportsmen complained that it was their license money that was being used to fence out wildlife.
Glenn Hockett of the Gallatin Wildlife Association attended a few of the citizen's group meetings and complained that the plan hadn't been developed in a collaborative manner.
“I'm very disappointed; I find it hard to believe,” Hockett said. “I think the precedent this sets is troubling, and there should probably be an environmental assessment to assess the risks.”
Supporters of the plan said each rancher's proposal would be taken on a case-by-case basis.
Commissioners Dan Vermillion, Gary Wolfe and Richard Stuker voted for the plan.