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State wildlife managers are proposing major changes to limited-entry elk permits for 14 central Montana hunting districts, including elimination of permits in some districts or opening up general license hunting on private land for bull elk.

The changes would mark a significant shift in elk management for multiple districts in Region 4 and 5 and will go to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Dec. 14 for the body’s initial consideration. Final adoption of regulations would take place after public comment in February.

Elk management, particularly in several central Montana hunting districts where public access is difficult, has become an increasingly controversial issue as elk populations have climbed far above management objectives. The districts that are part of this proposal are all 200% or above population objectives and largely concentrated on private land.

FWP is required by law to manage elk populations to meet objectives and have offered liberal opportunities for cow elk in many areas, including extra licenses, allowing cow hunting on general licenses and extended seasons. Still many districts have seen populations continue to increase.

The proposals come as a result of an initiative from FWP Director Hank Worsech to simplify regulations as the agency and commission set hunting seasons for the next two years. The agency initially released broad proposals from biologists before taking public comment ahead of the upcoming commission meeting.

Worsech said in an interview Monday that the current management approaches have not worked in some areas to reduce populations.

The proposals to the commission released Thursday include as follows:

  • In hunting districts 411, 417, 426, 535 (newly proposed for 2022), 590, 702, 704 and 705, FWP is proposing to retain the limited either-sex permits but make them valid only on public land. In most of these districts, the permit quotas are proposed to be half of the 2021 quotas. General licenses would be valid on private lands for bulls.
  • In Hunting District 401, a general license could be used to hunt bulls during the archery season. A limited permit would still be required during the general season. The current quota is 50.
  • In Hunting District 450, a general license would be valid for the entirety of the hunting season. The current quota is five permits.
  • Hunting districts 500 and 570 would combine into new Hunting District 515. Current permits would be removed for the districts and hunting would be open on a general license.
  • In Hunting District 575, permits would be removed and hunting would be open on a general license.
  • In Hunting District 580, permits would be removed and general license hunting would be open.
  • Hunting Districts 511 and 530 would combine into new Hunting District 535. Permit quotas would increase from 300 to 400.
  • In Hunting District 411, permits would increase from 300 to 400.

Additional proposals released Monday include a three-fold increase in funding to access programs and initiating a citizen working group to work on access to private lands.

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{span}Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.{/span}