FWP talks deer overcrowding in area
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Some 60 local landowners and sportsmen heard from the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks about what it can do to reduce the number of deer in the area, while department representatives heard ideas, and complaints, from the residents about the situation. Audience members said the cold and the high level of snow have brought thousands of deer to the area, leading them to destroy ranchers' feed Supplies as well as creating hazards on the highways, including a recent doublefatality on U.S. Highway 2 due to a driver swerving to avoid a deer. "We've got a problem, and we need it fixed," an audience member, who did not state his name, said during the meeting. Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, requested the meeting with FWP after numerous landowners told her of the difficulties they were having with the large number of deer and with car-deer crashes. Russell Standing Rock of Rocky Boy, who said his grandson, Kyle Martin Standing Rock, and his wife, Melvina First Raised, were killed Jan. 29 in a crash caused by the high number of deer, said something needs to change on the state level. "We need to get on our legislators to finally start to do something that gets a solution," Standing Rock said. FWP Game Warden Shane Reno said that last year and this year probably are the years with the highest game damage he has seen in his time in the region. Several people in the audience said they are unsatisfied with the solutions the department offers. Something needs to be done immediately to help, they said. Pat Gunderson, supervisor of FWP's Region 6, said the department essentially can do three things to help landowners reduce the number of deer on their property. One is to adjust things during the hunting season, including increasing the number of permits allowed per area. During the discussion, Gunderson and Region 6 Wildlife Manager Mark Sullivan said it is crucial for landowners to let the department know how many deer are present, so adjustments can be made. A survey of the regions is made each year, but that is adjusted by landowner comment, they said. The number that will be printed in next fall's hunting guide already is set, but that still could be adjusted. Another problem is the amount of land in the block-management hunting programs. The FWP reprsentatives said that if that amount was increased, it could increase the number of deer harvested each year. But both hunters and landowners said a major problem is hunters who want to harvest meat to feed their families finding landowners with deer and hunting available. Much land in the region is tied up by outfitters who bring in hunters from out of the region, and much of the block management land is overhunted by the first morning, some hunters said. Hill County Chief Deputy Attorney Kris Hansen, who is running as a candidate for the state Legislature, suggested using the Internet to help connect hunters with landowners. Gunderson and Reno also urged landowners to contact the department to let them know what land is available for hunting. Gunderson said two other programs are available to help landowners reduce the number of deer and damage they do on their land. One is a kill permit, which allows landowners to harvest deer on their land, from a few to as many as 60 head or more. Gunderson said the meat from those carcasses is distributed to needy families in the areas where they are harvested, or, if very large numbers are taken, to the Montana Food Bank network. Another aid program helps agricultural producers fence off their hay supply. The amount provided to landowners, once per year, can help build up to 1,000 linear feet of 7-foot tall fence. Warburton listed several ideas she has heard, including finding ways to help people who cannot afford to buy several deer tags find ways to hunt, providing an opportunity for landowners to receive free tags, and extending the season for youths.