While the results of some tests are still to come in, preliminary figure show 2 percent, or eight of the 216 mule deer and 123 whitetails killed in the special hunt in Carbon County this winter tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that effects deer, elk and moose.
The disease is similar to Mad Cow Disease, that jumped the species barrier from cattle to humans leading to deaths of more than 200. There are no known cases of CWD jumping the species barrier and infecting humans, but FWP recommends hunters take precautions when handling game to minimize risk.
Montana is surrounded by states — Wyoming and the Dakotas — where CWD is present. CWD is also present in Canadian provinces north of the border. The disease was first detected in mule deer killed in Carbon County near Bridger during the 2017 hunting season. The special hunt was approved in order to determine the extent of the disease in south-central Montana.
The Montana FWP commission has also called on Wyoming to close elk feeding grounds across that state. It's feared the feeding grounds will become hot spots for the disease, which is caused by abnormal proteins called prions. Prions are spread by body fluids such as urine, and can persist in the soil for years or maybe decades. The Bridger-area outbreak of CWD likely spread north from Wyoming.
There has also been a special hunt in northern Montana in Liberty County where mule deer killed in 2017 also tested positive for CWD. One deer killed in the special hunt tested positive for CWD.
CWD has been found in at least 23 states and two Canadian provinces. Only New York state appears to have prevented the establishment of the disease after it was detected in captive deer herds and a pair of wild whitetail.
The CWD Alliance is a good resource for info on CWD.
Regs for 2018-19 were OK'd Thursday. The new rules include a permit-only hunt area near the Fisher River east of Libby. In part of Hunting District 103 only five buck permits will be available in the area. Applications for the permits are due March 15.
The commission also decided against holding griz hunt this year following the delisting of the bear under the Endangered Species Act. Commissioners expressed concern that allowing a hunt might fuel legal efforts to overturn the delisting decision. Wyoming will likely approve a hunt this year. It's unclear what Idaho will do.
The formula approved by the feds for Montana griz hunting would have allowed for one female and six male grizzly bears to be killed. Commissioner Shane Cotton suggested other states were "tilting at windmills" by pursuing hunts.
Griz hunting in windy Wyoming remains a contentious topic. Human-griz encounters in Park County (Wyo.) seem to be on the rise and building a bear-proof fence at the county dump has become a source of friction for hunting advocates and opponents.
It looks as though Montana will hold off on grizzly hunting in 2018, despite the recent delisting of the bears under the Endangered Species Act.
Montana grizzly bears are reclaiming territory — such as the Sweet Grass Hills — where they haven’t been seen in decades. Griz roamed the Hills in the summer of 2016, and residents of towns such as Valier along the Rocky Mountain Front are reacquainting themselves with the day-to-day precautions of living in bear country.
That’s what happens when you recover an endangered species — it’s no longer endangered. As bear numbers grow youngsters will wander, searching for suitable habitat unoccupied by adult bears who may not appreciate their presence. And as the bears wander, inevitably their explorations will lead them to trouble. The bears that trekked across 100 miles of prairie to the Hills were likely responsible for killing 13 sheep.
We can expect incidents such as this as Montana grizzly bears expand their range. We’ll need to respond promptly to such problems, trapping and relocating bears, or removing them from the wild altogether if they can’t stay out of trouble.
It’s great that grizzlies no longer endangered. Montanans may soon learn that managing a recovered population of large, dangerous predators is more challenging than recovering them in the first place, however.
The skull of a bighorn ram that died of natural causes on Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake has shattered the Boone and Crockett world record. The horn’s measured 216-3/8 inches, besting the previous top ram by almost seven inches.
The herd on Wild Horse isn’t hunted, and has been carefully managed by Montana FWP to provide source population for bighorn restoration efforts in the region. There are about 100 sheep in the Wild Horse herd. The island measures 2,160 acres and since it’s a Montana State Park, these public lands are available for wildlife watching for anyone with a boat.
The Flathead Beacon has a nice wrap-up here.
Montana's snowpack looks good across the state, but it's still just early February. As we learned in 2017's dismal fire season, winter snow doesn't always survive through summer.
Still, this is good news for Montana river users. Keep your fingers crossed that our rafts won't be dragging in August.
Montana is a classic purple state, albeit one that leans red. We elect Republican majorities to our legislature, and Democrats as governor. Our congressional delegation in D.C. has long been a mix of both parties.
But on the issue of conservation and our love of the outdoors, there is no divide. Montanans stand in unity behind conservation of the Treasure State's unparalleled natural resources. That was reconfirmed again by Colorado College's annual Conservation in the West survey.
Among other things, the survey showed that 82 percent of Montanans consider themselves conservationists, and 87 percent say they are outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Hopefully, that's a reality pols seeking state office won't soon forget.
Protect it, and make sure we can access it.
My latest "Out of Bounds" column discusses some interesting developments from the wolf/elk war front in Montana. There's the news that the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is up 42 percent in 2018 as compared to the 2017. It's unlikely the herd nearly doubled in just a year. More likely, biologists speculate, the count just missed some animals last year. Still, the numbers are encouraging for a herd that is still less than half the size in was before wolves were reintroduced in 1998.
Just days before the elk numbers were released, news broke that a striking coal black wolf was killed by a hunter near Joliet, not too far from Yellowstone's northeast corner. The wolf is probably the same one that had been filmed wandering near a road in the region a few days before that. Wolf numbers in Montana are stable, or declining slightly, probably a result of hunter success and aggressive management of problem packs.