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The director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in front of a fiery crowd in Bozeman that he is focused on simplifying deer and elk hunting regulations going into this year’s biennial season-setting process.

“Of all the questions we’re always asked about regulations, this is a way to finally look at them and say ‘they are either simple or not’ and get everyone involved,” said Hank Worsech, director of Montana FWP, during a meet-and-greet on Tuesday evening.

Officials want to simplify hunting license structures while focusing on managing wildlife populations effectively, according to the department.

Hunters could see a reduction in the number of license and permit types and fewer elk and deer hunting districts in 2022 and 2023. In some areas, FWP may combine adjacent hunting districts that have similar regulations.

On Tuesday, Worsech told a crowd of approximately 50 people in Bozeman what the process for changing those regulations might look like.

FWP’s Region 3 Headquarters in Bozeman was his fifth stop on a tour of the state, which started on Aug. 23 in Missoula. The open houses were set to conclude in Miles City on Thursday.

Worsech spoke in Bozeman alongside other staff from the department, including Deputy Director Dustin Temple and Chief of Staff Quentin Kujala.

The director said in a news release that he saw the open houses as an opportunity to hear directly from the public. His tour of the state started shortly after FWP announced plans to take a fresh approach to biennial hunting regulations.

“Hunters have told us for years that our regulations are too complicated,” Worsech said in a news release. “Past efforts to simplify the regulations have mostly resulted in small changes every two years. It’s time to take a more holistic look at the regulations to make them more understandable and effective.”

Biologists plan do the science and develop proposals for how to best manage elk and deer during upcoming hunting seasons, Worsech said. The department then plans collect public comments on those proposals.

Marina Yoshioka, regional supervisor for FWP Region 3, said the director’s office and the department’s legal team are set to look over proposals next week. They’ll send them out for public review from around Sept. 20 to Oct. 20, she said.

Following the first round of public comments, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission plans to review all the information at its meeting in December. After that, commissioners plan to send refined hunting regulations out for another round of public comment.

The department expects to adopt final 2022 and 2023 deer and elk regulations in February.

The new approach differs from past regulation-setting processes in that the “social and scientific” aspects of the regulations won’t be blended right away, according to Worsech. The department plans to have meetings to hear more about what the public wants based on what the science says, he said.

“The process is going to be more transparent from my perspective than it ever has been,” he said. “We have an opportunity to talk to biologists, talk to people, talk to anybody we need to get this done.”

Following the director’s comments on the elk and deer season-setting process, the meet-and-greet opened to questions and comments from members of the public.

Many in the crowd wanted to know how the department developed recommendations for reducing the state’s wolf population. Others commented on a recent decision to extent late elk shoulder seasons and expand them to public land in some areas.

When it came to the recent decisions, several people at Tuesday’s open house said they felt their voices didn’t matter to the Legislature, the department or the commission.

Measures to increase the harvest of wolves statewide and expand late elk shoulder seasons in 18 hunting districts passed the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in August.

The changes were adopted despite overwhelming opposition from the public, according to the comments collected by Montana FWP.

Traci Isaly, a Bozeman resident, said many people’s livelihoods depend on taking people out to see wolves and other animals, and those voices are not being represented by state legislators and commissioners.

“The science did support that wolves in the environment are helpful. They just didn’t like it,” she said. “That’s what it came down to.”

Paul Kemper, a hunter who is involved with the Traditional Bowhunters of Montana, the Montana Bowhunters Association and the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, asked the director for advice on how to better communicate with commissioners.

Kemper said that when late elk shoulder seasons are expanded to public land amid overwhelming opposition, people are left wondering why they even show up to meetings. To be engaged in the process, be supported by science and then to see the decision made anyway makes people wonder why they are there in the first place, he said.

Worsech said commissioners don’t make decisions based on which groups submit more comments, as they have a charge to do what they think is best for the process. He encouraged people to still stay as active as they can in the process to get their messages across.

“You have to have substance for what you’re talking about, be articulate and explain what you’re trying to gain,” Worsech said. “The administration has changed, the Legislature has changed, all of this has changed. Yes, there’s going to be a pendulum swing on this. That’s the reality of what it is.”

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

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