The Block Management Program, which provides public hunting access to more than two million acres of land throughout Region 7, is still going strong.
To thank the people who make that possible, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks invited more than 300 landowners and their families who participate in the program to two appreciation dinners in mid-February – one in Miles City and one in Glendive. The Miles City event drew 187 people, and 100 participated in Glendive.
The Colstrip Sportsman’s Club, a supporter of the Block Management cooperator event for more than 20 years, donated prizes for participants. For the Mule Deer Foundations, the Black Gold Chapter of Baker and the Badlands Bruisers chapter of Glendive both donated Henry Golden Boy .22 long rifles for raffles at each dinner.
Block Management by the numbers
Region 7 Hunting Access Coordinator Travis Muscha summarized for attendees how the Block Management Program has fared in recent seasons.
“It’s been a pretty stable program here for the past five years,” Muscha said. “Obviously, we’d like to see this trending upward with more cooperators and more Block Management Areas.”
For the 2018 season, there were 319 cooperators and 262 Block Management Areas. The total acreage was 2,195,247 million – 1,612,499 of those private and 582,748 state and federal acres. Region 7 is the largest Block Management Program in the state, accounting for a good chunk of the total 7.2 million enrolled acres.
The amount of acreage has dropped slightly in recent years, but Muscha was pleased to see an additional 15,300 acres in 2018.
A whole lot of hunters
Southeastern Montana played host to 43,532 hunters in 2018 just through Block Management. Of those, 27,425 were Montana residents and 16,107 were non-residents. An additional 2,000 non-residents visited last year compared to 2017.
Overall, hunters are spending more time afield in Region 7. Since 2014, hunter days have increased by almost 14,000. In 2018, 78,413 hunter days were recorded. Residents accounted for 50,184 days and non-residents spent 28,229 days.
“Hunter satisfaction is very consistent, right at or above 90 percent every year,” Muscha said.
Based on a little over 3,000 comment cards returned from hunters in 2018, 73 percent of hunters observed game and 28 percent harvested animals. Breaking it down, success rates were 34 percent for antelope, 22 percent for deer, 3 percent for elk, 29 percent for upland birds and 63 percent for waterfowl.
Landowners are even more satisfied with the access program than hunters, with 99 percent voicing their approval. Ninety-five percent are satisfied in their experience with hunters. Ninety-one percent intend to participate in the upcoming season, while 9 percent have not decided.
Wildlife population outlook
Muscha shared some post-season survey data for deer populations that was recently collected by biologists on 13 trend areas across the region. The 2017 drought and the tough winter that came after reduced herds by an estimated 11 percent regionwide. However, deer numbers are still 29 percent above the long-term average. Of the 3,509 deer observed, 17 percent were bucks, 47 percent were does and 33 percent were fawns.
FWP got varying comments from landowners on game, with some reporting lots of deer in their area and others seeing few. Most note that upland game bird numbers still seem down a bit.
What’s coming up for program
Re-enrollment for Block Management will begin in early March and continue through June. Cooperator licenses should be released next week. For more information about the Block Management Program, contact FWP at 406-234-0930.
Block Management information should be available around August 12. Hunters may not make reservations for Block Management Areas until August 22. When they do, they will notice new maps and rules pages for 2019.
Another change for 2019 will be increased focus on the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease. It is Region 7’s turn for stepped-up surveillance efforts, primarily in hunter-harvested animals. Samples will be collected at game check stations throughout the region from animals harvested in designated high-priority areas. For more information on CWD, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov.