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Regional working groups will soon play a part in elk management, but Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks commissioners voted to retain a larger chunk of the responsibility. At Thursday’s meeting in Helena, the five-member FWP commission gave final approval to a working group’s proposal to modify elk distribution to limit the spread of disease, particularly brucellosis.

The plan, given initial approval on Nov. 8, would apply primarily in the regions surrounding Yellowstone National Park, where brucellosis is most prevalent.

The two-hour discussion included final public comments, one of which reinforced the need for an amendment proposed by Commissioner Ron Moody.

Moody proposed an amendment to the plan, which would establish a number of smaller working groups that could decide which methods worked best in their areas for keeping elk separated from livestock.

Moody said using working groups didn’t fit the commission’s usual procedure of proposing a plan of action followed by a public-comment period and final consideration.

“This commission needs to maintain some hands-on at least during the first year of this process,” Moody said. “We’re pretty much inventing a wheel here so we should stay more engaged.”

Moody proposed adding an additional clause that FWP would periodically report working groups’ outcomes and issues related to brucellosis in elk starting in August.

Kujala said the timing in Moody’s amendment could cause problems because some working groups might want to conduct a hazing operation or limited hunt this spring.

“Sometimes there’s a spontaneity need that comes with these things,” Kujala said. “This limits what may be carried out in the next two months.”

During public comment, Shelby DeMars of the United Property Owners of Montana listed several points in opposition to the plan’s adoption.

Along with expressing disappointment that test-and-slaughter was tabled, she said she opposed the hazing and harboring prohibition because it intruded on landowners’ rights.

“Punitive action would be taken against landowners without providing us with options to disperse elk ourselves,” DeMars said. “Rather than allowing FWP to guide hunters on our land, landowners should be granted kill permits.”

While a dozen people spoke, those words seemed to ring loudest in Commissioner Shane Colton’s ears as he voiced his support for Moody’s amendment.

“I expressed concerns in November about the potential for people to use the working groups to manipulate things, and we see today that some would utilize this as a way to develop a different permitting system,” Colton said. “We need to stay involved so this doesn’t’ take place.”

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