Pat Byorth

Pat Byorth

Pat Byorth, director of Trout Unlimited’s Montana Water Project and a former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist, has been nominated to be the next member of the Montana Fish and Wildlife commission representing southwestern Montana.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock named Byorth, of Bozeman, as his nominee for the panel that oversees Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on Friday.

“I’m just deeply honored and humbled to be picked by the governor and be entrusted with this responsibility,” Byorth said when reached by phone Friday afternoon.

The nomination would need to be confirmed by the state Senate, which also has to confirm three other nominees to the panel — Tim Aldrich of Missoula, Shane Colton of Billings and Logan Brower of Scobey.

A resolution for the confirmation of Colton and Aldrich has been drafted. It’s sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who chairs the Senate Fish and Game Committee. No hearings have been scheduled on the resolution.

During the 2017 session, lawmakers didn’t consider the governor’s commission nominees until mid-April.

Byorth spent 17 years working for FWP. He has worked for Trout Unlimited for the past 10 years, mostly working on water right leases.

He would represent District Two, which stretches from the western edge of Beaverhead County east through Sweet Grass County, encompassing all of the state’s southwestern corner and the areas around Yellowstone National Park.

He would replace Dan Vermillion, the former chair of the commission whose term expired in January of this year.

Vermillion, a fishing outfitter based in Livingston, steps down after 12 years on the commission. He said he enjoyed the work of trying to serve a region he considers special.

“I still think that southwest Montana is probably the most fish and wildlife diverse part of our state,” Vermillion said. “But it’s also the part of our state that faces the most challenges with big population growth and huge increase and demand for recreational opportunity.”

He said he’s proud of the commission’s work on wolf management, that it serves as an example of Montana succeeding in managing a sensitive species.

It involved balancing polarized interests — the people who want them all dead and those who want to see more of them. Vermillion said the issue has calmed since he first started on the commission, although the animals still draw strong feelings.

“The bottom line is I think the wolf population in Montana at least, it’s not going anywhere,” Vermillion said. “It’s being managed in a way that should keep it around for a long time.”

He would have liked to have seen more bighorn sheep restoration around the state. Wild sheep have been extirpated from much of their historic range and restoration efforts have struggled because of disease issues and a need to keep wild and domestic sheep separate. Those dynamics make it tough to find places to reintroduce the animals.

“That is something that the public has consistently supported ... it’s not as straightforward as one would like,” Vermillion said.

As for what’s next, he’s not sure. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate last fall, losing to Republican John Esp of Big Timber. The Democrat said he might consider running for office again, likely at the local or state legislative level.

Michael Wright can be reached at or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

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