The Madison County Commissioners hosted their quarterly interagency meeting on Oct. 5 at the fire hall and community center in Alder. Representatives from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Madison County Emergency Management and the commissioners’ office were all present.
The purpose for the interagency meetings, according to Commission Chair Jim Hart, is to keep folks “in the loop” about what is happening within the county.
“I hope this is as helpful for all of you as it is for me,” Hart said toward the end of the meeting.
Wildlife biologist with Montana FWP Dean Waltee started off the meeting, updating agency partners about ongoing projects. Waltee reported that region three supervisor Sam Sheppard retired and the office is rotating through interim supervisors until the position can be filled.
Waltee also reported changes within FWP enforcement hours after a decision from the 2017 Montana Legislative session.
“The 2017 legislature did shift one-third of FWP enforcement funding to Pittman-Robertson
Act,” said Waltee, adding Pittman-Robertson dollars cannot be spent on enforcement hours. “The large change this facilitates is game wardens will be shifting a third of their time away from enforcement and toward wildlife management, habitat work and research.”
Waltee said he did not know the driving force behind the legislature’s decision, but said FWP is fully aware of the implications it would have on shifting warden’s time.
“Right now, game wardens are trying to fulfill their one-third non enforcement time outside of the general hunting season so that their hunting season time is not impacted,” Waltee reported. “But it could lead to some reduced response from game wardens to calls or complaints.”
Waltee also informed partners of the upcoming and ongoing hunting seasons, saying we will be seeing an “uptick” in orange vests. He will once again be conducting check stations on the first, third and last weekends of the general deer and elk season in Alder, where he will be gathering biological data and monitoring social trends.
Staying on topic, Waltee said he plans to propose two changes during FWP’s biennial hunting season change process by Nov. 1, including offering one ram harvest opportunity in the Greenhorn bighorn sheep herd.
“I’ve been surveying that herd for the last three years and based on those efforts they have met the entry criteria for a hunting season proposal outlined by our state bighorn sheep plan,” Waltee said.
The other change Waltee is proposing is to remove the elk B license that is specific to the Wall Creek Wildlife Management Area, making the existing 399-00 elk B license a valid license on the WMA.
“As of next hunting season, there would be 750 of those licenses available to hunters and valid across 18 hunting districts in Southwest Montana,” he said. “I’m looking to simply simplify regulations by removing a license type that hasn’t been necessary for management purposes.”
The biennial hunting season changes will occur after this hunting season, with any changes taking effect during the 2018-2019 season. If you have questions about any potential changes, Waltee suggested getting in touch with your local game warden or biologist prior to the Nov. 1 deadline.
Madison District Ranger Dale Olson represented the USFS during the Oct. 5 meeting, starting with a recap of the busy fire season.
“It wasn’t necessarily busy in Madison County or on the district, but we had a lot of folks out on fire assignment,” Olson said.
Olson updated the group on the Greenhorn project and scoping document that is available for public comment for the next 30 days. Olson said the project in the Greenhorns has been active, with lots of public discussion.
“We’ve had a lot of public interaction and lots of good discussion regarding the project,” he said.
The district did some prescribed burning over the past couple weeks, focusing mostly in the North and South Meadow Creek and Standard Creek areas – close to 200 acres were part of the prescribed burn.
“All that is pretty much left to do there is the road grading and given the weather, that might have to wait until spring,” said Olson.
Olson also reported that livestock are starting to come off the forest landscape as the weather turns. He then updated the group on different projects underway. One project the district has been already doing this summer is assisting in the carcass composting program through the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group and the Madison County Commissioners.
“We’ve hauled two carcasses so far this summer and fall,” Olson said.
Dustin Tetrault, emergency management director for the county reported Madison County had 17 fires this summer.
“Seventeen that we actually put waters on from May through September,” said Tetrault. “We had good initial attack and were able to get things out quickly.”
Tetrault added that he has seen some Emergency Management Assistant Compact requests after the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Virgin Islands.
“That just tells you how in need we are,” Tetrault said.
Since the last interagency meeting, Tetrault completed 67 preconstruction safety reviews and reported that the department received a Homeland Security Grant for a 5 foot by 8 foot pull behind satellite trailer, which can be used for different search and rescue missions and other emergency management issues.
Cornie Hudson represented the BLM on Oct. 5 and talked about several projects happening from of their offices, including some graveling projects in Madison County.
“We were able to gravel the campsites down on the lower Madison (River),” Hudson said, adding the BLM got the gravel and the county did the work.
Hudson reported on weed removal efforts over the summer, which included 5,700 acres of spraying weeds, 3,000 of which were in Madison County.
Later this month, the BLM will begin their wild horse and burrow monitoring in the Spanish Q area, examining the long term holding facility, according to Hudson.
District Two Commissioner Ron Nye reported on several projects happening in the county, briefly highlighting the improvements needed at both Madison County airports and the increase in usage. Nye also reiterated a shortage of workforce housing and said they are working with Rob Gilmore with Northern Rocky Economic Development District on a solution.
“We’ve talked about bringing back a housing committee,” Nye said.
The fairgrounds are still a work in progress as the commissioners, fair board and Great West Engineering look for ways to improve and adapt to growth. He also reported that all the signs should be in place and correct after the land swap with SRI River Holdings and said the Twin Bridges road shop is on the up and up.
“It’s moving along really well, the frame is going up and that’s just a great thing to have for the area,” Nye said.
Hart read a quick report from Kris Inman with Wildlife Conservation Society, which included an update on making the Nevada City dump a bear resistant facility. Inman’s report also highlighted carcass composting in the valley and an influx of black bears breaking into cars and homes in the Big Sky area.