Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Elk Sellers by John Gibson

COMMENTS BY JOHN GIBSON REGARDING THE PUBLIC TRUST

Montana’s big game herds have become big business.  Several properties now advertise a hunt for bull elk at $15,000. It might include a trespass fee or a guided hunt but the elk is the product. Without the elk other two components are only worth a few hundred dollars. They are selling elk.
Look around and see existing examples of managers making tens of thousands of dollars each season selling bull elk.  
Granted, there are others who want to control elk for political influence or their own style of management. Whatever the reason, these are public elk and covered by the public trust.    
We pay the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to manage elk in our state. But if you read the web site of profiteers, such as the Musselshell or Arnaud  Outfitters you will find there is little or no mention  of the Montana FW&P. One could easily conclude that these landowners manage their own wildlife. The problem is, that conclusion is not far from the truth.
This is not the way a majority of Montana residents want their wildlife managed. We expect the department to manage the public wildlife resource under the Public Trust Doctrine, and within the scope of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. These tenets are based on a foundation of equal opportunity and the democracy of the hunt.
Public bull elk for sale for $15,000 is completely inconsistent with these principles. It makes little difference if the sale is bundled with a trespass fee or a guided hunt.
If this system is allowed to continue, my children and grandchildren, like most other Montanans, will never have an opportunity to enjoy much of the state’s wildlife that belongs to them.
No one is advocating erosion of private property rights. But public wildlife is not private property.  We expect the department to use the allocation process early to level the playing field and bring big game management more in line with the public trust. This can be done by conducting a drawing for all trophy animals on properties that are clearly selling or otherwise controlling bull elk.
 With the permits in place, only hunters successfully drawing a permit can hunt these animals. Likewise, the property owner can only deal with permit holders to charge for access. Also, only ten percent of the permits will be allocated to nonresidents.
 If harvest of both male and female animals is inadequate under this system, the Dept. should issue fewer permits for trophy animals in subsequent years until the surplus elk are gone. If the harvest remains too high, all trophy permits should eventually be terminated.
The courage and commitment of the Dept. of Fish and Game is about to be tested severely now that most of the habitat occupied by the second largest elk herd in Montana is under one ownership. Will these thousands of elk be controlled by the landowner or the people of Montana who are the beneficiaries of the public trust?
John Gibson
3028 Ave E
Billings MT PH  406 656 0384

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