Only 5% of Americans hunt, and for those of us that do, fewer return to the field every year. Even in Big Sky country, where we pride ourselves on our strong hunting culture, there has been a small but measurable decline in resident hunters over the past decade.
The decline in the hunting population across the country tracks the decline in the number of acres open to public hunting. If we want to pass on the opportunity to pursue wild animals in wild landscapes to the next generation of Montana hunters, it is crucial to support programs that increase public access.
At American Prairie Reserve (APR), we strive to provide high-quality hunting opportunities while also working to restore the habitat needed to sustain elk, mule deer, pronghorn and upland game bird populations in north-central and northeastern Montana. Toward that goal, I am pleased to report that American Prairie Reserve will double the number of acres enrolled in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Block Management hunting program for the upcoming 2020/2021 hunting season.
Block Management is the most well-known, and arguably, most impactful Montana program to increase hunter opportunity. Block Management is essentially a partnership between hunters and landowners, in which hunters receive public access to hunt private lands that would not otherwise be open. In return, landowners receive financial incentives to enroll their lands, paid for by hunter license fees.
FWP’s program is well-established and successful. Each year, well over 1,000 landowners enroll their private property into Block Management, and hunters and landowners alike report a high degree of satisfaction.
This year, for the first time, our wildlife-rich PN property will be enrolled in Type 2 Block Management. The PN is a 47,000-acre property north of Winifred and stretches across the rugged Missouri River Breaks, cottonwood-filled valleys and short-grass prairie. This year we are also enrolling our Dry Fork property, located just south of Malta, in Type 2 Block Management. These properties both offer low-pressure, high-quality hunting opportunities.
Similar to past years, our Two Crow and Timber Creek properties will remain enrolled in Block Management, as well as the Blue Ridge Block Management area, which was formerly called Burnt Lodge. The addition of the two areas brings the total number of APR’s deeded lands enrolled in the Block Management program up to more than 64,000 acres.
One of the reasons Block Management is an attractive option for APR is because it offers a high degree of flexibility. It gives us flexibility to design hunting policies for specific properties, it gives biologists flexibility to manage wildlife, and it gives the public flexibility to consider more options when planning their fall hunting trips.
The program is also a tremendous benefit to Montana’s outdoor economy. FWP estimated in 2016 that elk, deer and pronghorn hunters alone spent over $300 million in the state. When we work to create more hunting opportunities it not only protects our cherished traditions, but also makes financial sense and supports small businesses across the state.
If you are interested in learning more about American Prairie Reserve’s 2020/2021 hunting opportunities please visit www.americanprairie.org/hunting. Also, do not forget to pick up your Block Management hunting access guide from FWP. This guide contains the full list of properties enrolled in the Block Management Program across the state and will be available in August.
Mike Quist Kautz is the Director of Public Access and Recreation for American Prairie Reserve.
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