Friday, February 21, 2014

What is the real cost to sportsmen and wildlife with the Elk Management in Areas With Brucellosis?

Elk in Park County

In 1946, Welch Brogan bought 12 elk, for $20.00 each, from the Yellowstone National Park. He put up tall fences on his Corwin Springs property in Park County, MT. Thus was born Cinnabar Game Farm and Welch Brogan became the father of modern-day elk farming.

Originally the elk resided on 14 acres of land. At its peak, the Cinnabar Game Farm housed 400 elk on 400 acres east of Highway 89, land abutting the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. According to a Missoulian article interviewing Brogan, in 30 years, he sold about 2,500 elk around the world. He also cut antlers in velvet off of live bulls, selling the velvet to the Orient.

Due to my research and concerns over the Park County rancher fencing modifications to the FWP elk brucellosis work plan, using FWP dollars to potentially pay for miles of 6-8 foot high wildlife proof fencing, I was relayed the history of Welch Brogan by the person who anonymously tipped off the FWP Game Warden in the late 80's, of Brogan baiting and capturing wild elk. This tip led to an investigation and subsequent charges against Brogan in 1989 of two counts of failing to maintain proper game farm fences and one count of capturing wild elk. Brogan fought the District Courts conviction, which the Montana Supreme Court upheld in 1995. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks began trying in 1993 to revoke his license, which in 1997, the Supreme Court agree should be revoked. Thus ended the Cinnabar Game Farm.

Ironically, those tall game farm fences, on land that Brogan owned, still holds captured wildlife - Yellowstone National Park bison . The land is in the a Brogan Limited Partnership, with the facilities being called the Brogan Bison Facility, leased by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), where they capture wild bison and experiment on them with the GonaCon immunocontraceptive to sterilize the wild bison. This sterility drug is also being studied for use on wild elk populations. This is another sordid research trail for another time.

There has been expressed concern of rancher harboring of wildlife before this recent rancher grab of sportsmens dollars for miles of 6-8 foot tall wildlife proof fencing. While the ranchers at the Park County meetings stated they wanted to exclude elk because of the brucellosis threat (which I addressed in a recent Guest Opinion which ran in a number of Montana papers), Park County is also a major draw for elk hunting. This elk harboring concern may have validity.

In Park County, from 2007-2012 - years when ranchers knew it was the elk genotype responsible for some brucellosis transmission - only 5 landowner elk Game Damage complaints were filed; 3 of those occurring in 2008. If Park Co. ranchers were concerned about elk, why did they not avail themselves of the tools available through FWP's Game Damage, which required public hunter access? Even before the Elk Management in Areas With Brucellosis was approved by the FWP Commissioners on Jan. 10, 2013, the requests for stack fencing and lethal removal “hunts” began rolling in from these ranchers. Since it's approval, there have been more Park Co. requests for stack fencing, hazing, elk kills than all previous years combined. Again, this elk brucellosis program operates outside of Montana Game Damage laws, which require public hunter access during the general season. This public hunter access helps to provide hunter pressure on private lands, encouraging the elk to seek other locations for habitat security, rather than private lands where they may not be wanted, except possibly during hunting season.

I saved the maps from this 2013 seasons Block Management. In Region 3, following HWY 89, south of Livingston, there was only one ranch that participated in Block Management, allowing public hunter access, in Park County and it was not one of these ranchers at the watershed working group. Yet, if you look at a map of Outfitters Leasing Private Lands, you see HWY 89, south of Livingston, littered with outfitter leases. This does not take into account any ranches that independently lease to hunters. Any cursory search online of elk hunting and Paradise Valley or Pray, MT reveals numerous ranches that are involved with elk hunting.

In 2013, an academic paper was published by FWP wildlife biologists, Effects of Hunter Access and Habitat Security on Elk HabitatSelection in Landscapes With a Public and Private Land Matrix, Proffitt et al. “We therefore assumed that although many private lands did permit some hunting opportunity and access (i.e., for family, friends or paying clients), the restricted hunting access and level of hunting risk was more similar to no access areas than areas that permitted public hunting access.” They also found, “Similar to the East Madison herd, during all study periods, Western Paradise Valley elk were less likely to occupy areas that permitted public hunting access, and this effect intensified during the rifle period.”

If hunting opportunity exists solely or disproportionately on public lands, hunting may selectively reduce numbers in the public land herd segment. If animals learn migratory and movement patterns as calves, over time this could result in the loss of the public land herd segment and limited private land hunts will not be effective in rebuilding the public lands segment of the herd over the short term. To rebuild the public segment of the herd over time, public lands hunting pressure may need to be reduced or eliminated while hunting pressure on private lands is increased, to affect differential mortality rates in different herd segments.” “Focusing harvest pressure on private lands currently restricting hunter access while limiting harvests on public lands may be an effective strategy for redistributing elk onto public lands in areas where elk distribution is focused on private lands with limited public hunting access.”

The FWP Game Damage program operates under Montana law, requiring public hunter access, established by scientific wildlife biology and management practices. Game Damage restricts lethal kills to Feb. 15th, because of the elk gestation period, which is more developed after that point. Public hunter access requirements helps to encourage elk on public lands, versus elk congregations on private lands. This Elk Management in Areas WithBrucellosis operates outside of Montana Game Damage laws, actually requires an Environmental Review,  allowing lethal removals to April 30th, currently requested to extend to May 15th, and no public hunter access requirement for any private land owner actions.

As in the case of elk game rancher Brogan, opening his gates on the tall wildlife proof fencing, baiting wild elk into the enclosure and shutting the gate behind them (against Montana law), it took a public witness reporting the act to a FWP Game Warden to put a stop to the practice. Should FWP Commissioners, once again pass another of these Elk Brucellosis proposals, we could be looking at FWP dollars paying for miles of private ranchers 6-8 foot tall wildlife obstructing fencing. Which would not only prohibit other normal wildlife passage, potentially, radically altering wildlife corridors in Park County, but also opening FWP up to lawsuits which will have to be paid for by more sportsmens dollars. I am already aware of two cases of private landowners who enjoy the migratory elk, not wanting a 6-8 foot tall fence bordering their property, that have expressed they would follow this legal course, if it comes to this. An additional question - could we also be looking at wildlife harboring violations? How is this going to be monitored for wildlife possession violations, especially during hunting season?

When I looked into fencing laws in the Montana Code Annotated, Title 81, which covers livestock, 81-4-101 thru 108 states, “Any one of the following, if not less than 44 inches or more than 48 inches in height, shall be a legal fence in the state of Montana: ” They go on to discuss barbed wire fences, corral fencing, stack fencing, but there is nothing involving miles of 6-8 foot tall pasture fencing for cattle. This brings up another question: What are the legalities of miles of 6-8 foot tall, wildlife obstructing pasture fencing around cattle in Montana?

With all of these issues, it begs the question, “What is the real cost to sportsmen and wildlife, with this Elk Management in Areas With Brucellosis program, going to be?”

Please contact by March 21, 2014, to object to the Park County rancher driven modifications to an already mismanaged elk brucellosis plan, operating outside of Montana elk management laws.

Kathryn QannaYahu
Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat

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