Bitterroot’s HD 270 exempt from single district rules for permit holders

While the FWP Commission was rewriting rules for hunting districts across the state, some more restrictive for hunters, one change opened things up in HD 270 in the Bitterroot's east fork. Ravalli Republic editor Perry Backus outlines the changes in this report.

Hunters still need to draw an unlimited bull tag to hunt the district, but now they will be able to hunt other districts earlier in the season, before the weather chases elk out of the Big Hole Valley to the east.

Up until now, HD 270 was the only district in the state that required hunters to obtain an “unlimited” bull elk permit to hunt there. To obtain the “unlimited” permit, hunters give up their opportunity to put in for a more coveted elk permit elsewhere in the state.

New Region 2 Commissioner, Jana Waller, made the motion to exempt HD 270 based on feed back she received from hunters.

“Unit 270 is a unique unit in terms of elk and geography,” Waller said Monday. “Originally a general unit, it was changed years back due to the bull to cow ratios dipping too low when early weather drives the elk into 270. For biological reasons it was changed to an unlimited-style tag.”

That gives hunters an option when milder weather allows elk to linger in the Big Hole.

It takes winter weather to drive elk over the Big Hole divide into the East Fork of the Bitterroot. Because of that, hunters with an HD 270 permit like the freedom to be able to hunt other general elk hunting districts in the state earlier in the season.

FWP commission scales back elk management changes

New elk regs were approved by the FWP commission Friday, but this report by Tom Kuglin of the "Helena Independent Record" indicates some of the proposals least favorable to in-state hunters were scaled back.

Spokespersons for both the United Property Owners of Montana and the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association were unhappy with some of the changes — especially dropping unlimited archery elk permits in many hunting districts. That suggests the commission adopted regs more favorable to private, in-state hunters. That's almost always a good thing.

Stream Access, if You Can Keep It

Montana's Stream Access Law is considered the gold standard for river access in the West. Just try anchoring your drift boat in the wrong place on some Wyoming rivers if you doubt that.

Maybe the fact that Montana's law is so good is the reason a small, but wealthy and powerful minority are so committed to getting rid of it. That was the case in the 1990s on Mitchell Slough, a branch of the Bitterroot River in the braided reach between Victor and Stevensville. That's when wealthy landowners, who had bought up the old ranch property that lined the Slough, hung trespassing signs along the water and waged a war to keep the riff-raff — a club of which I am proud to proclaim membership — out.

"Bitterroot Star" newspaper owner and reporter Michael Howell, along with a band of rabble-rousing old school Bitterrooters, formed the Bitterroot River Protection Association and went to work protecting the Stream Access Law on Mitchell Slough, finally winning a unanimous Montana Supreme Court decision in 2008. That fight is chronicled in Howell's new book, "Saving the Mitchell." Here's a link to my column reviewing the book.

While the topic is maddening, the book is a worthy retelling of a good fight. I know many of the characters in the story as I lived in the Bitterroot for six years in the 1990s and even worked for Howell at his newspaper, the "Bitterroot Star" for a couple of years. It was nice reading about some of my old friends, many who have faded from my life with time. It also helped that I knew the story has a happy ending.

If you can't find the book in your local bookstore, you can purchase it through the website of the Bitterroot River Protection Association.

I've written about Mitchell Slough and the SAL often enough. Here are links to a few of my earlier columns.

Bring on the Roaring Twenties

A Fight Now Decades Old

Ruby Access Battle Over, For Now

Crazies in court

Outdoor Life news editor Dac Collins updates the court fight over access in the Crazy Mountains. The Forest Service has stopped defending access established via prescribed easement, and in one case, built a new trail that avoided conflicts with landowners, but also excluded the public from the process.

In 2017, the Forest Service suspended Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz for writing a memo that outlined to staff how they could work to maintain public access on these trails that access the Crazies via prescriptive easement. Sienkiewicz later got his job back, but the Forest Service has backed off defending the public's right to access the Crazy Mountains.