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Proposed adjustments to hunting district boundaries, season structures and license and permit types in 2022-2023 hunting regulations are out for public comments until Jan. 21.

The changes are part of an effort by the department to simplify hunting regulations, which Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech has said are too complicated.

Biennial season-setting occurs every other year and covers most hunted wildlife species, excluding wolves and furbearers. Officials want to simplify license structures while managing wildlife populations effectively, Worsech said at a public meeting in Bozeman this fall.

The deadline for public comment on the draft regulations was initially set for Jan. 14, but FWP extended that date by a week. Staff are holding public meetings around the state to discuss the changes.

In Region 3, which encompasses southwest Montana, public meetings were held in Dillon, Helena, Butte, Livingston and Whitehall late this December. The region has a virtual season-setting Citizen Advisory Council meeting scheduled for Jan. 12 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Staff from the department crafted an initial proposal that restructured hunting regulations in the fall, ahead of 2022/2023 biennial season-setting. They altered it based on public feedback, and sent the latest version before the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.

At a meeting in December, commissioners voted to send out the latest package of draft regulations for another round of public comment. The proposal is expected to return to the commission for a final vote in February.

Under the draft regulations, some hunting districts would be consolidated and boundaries would shift around others. Some districts would be eliminated entirely. Quotas would be adjusted to fit the new district boundaries, and there would be fewer license and permit types.

There are 46 hunting districts for deer and elk in southwest Montana’s Region 3. That number would drop to 33 under the 2022 draft regulations.

HDs 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327 and 330— a vast chunk of land stretching south from Twin Bridges into the Centennial and Ruby valleys— would consolidate to form HD 322. The Wall Creek Special Hunt Area in HD 323 would be maintained.

HDs 350 and 370, which lie just north of Whitehall, would combine to form a single unit, and two hunting districts stretching south from Ennis Lake toward Hebgen Lake— HDs 360 and 362— would merge into one.

Boundaries would shift around HDs 320, 311 and 301 south of Three Forks, and HD 333 southwest of Three Forks would be eliminated entirely.

Under the proposal, boundaries around Region 3’s antelope, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion and black bear hunting districts would also shift, as would quotas for those species. No changes are proposed to the state’s bison hunting season or district boundaries.

Among the changes, the department is seeking to eliminate antlerless-only elk permits and replace them with Elk B licenses, said Ken McDonald FWP’s wildlife division administrator, at a December meeting. Staff are also proposing to limit antlered mule deer permits in HDs 380 and 392, he said.

The state’s upland game bird season would be extended from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31 for mountain grouse, pheasant, partridge and sharp-tailed grouse. The commission also proposed to allow the use of air rifles to hunt mountain grouse and turkeys during the fall season.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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