Landowners have until March 30 to apply for access tax credit program

Landowners have until March 30 to submit applications to Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks for enrollment in a new program called Unlocking Public Lands that may qualify a landowner for up to $3,000 in annual tax credits. Through this program, a landowner who enters into a contractual agreement with FWP to allow public recreational access across private land to reach a parcel of otherwise inaccessible state or federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or United States Forest Service (USFS) land is entitled to receive a $750 annual tax credit per contract, with a maximum of four contracts per year.

The Unlocking Public Lands program is a product of the 2015 Legislature, which expanded a program called Unlocking State Land passed by the previous legislature. While Montana contains nearly 31 million acres of BLM, USFS, and state land, much of this land requires landowner permission to cross private land to reach the state or federal land.

“Offering a tax credit in exchange for allowing public access across private land to reach public land is a unique and innovative way to increase public access,” said Ken McDonald, FWP wildlife division administrator. “We hope these new opportunities and incentives may appeal to landowners throughout the state.”

More information about the program, including enrollment criteria and the application form, can be found at

Gov. Bullock announces more cabinet appointments

MSGA has had conversations with both Martha Williams, the new director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Ben Thomas, the new director of the Department of Agriculture. MSGA will be setting up meetings with both directors once they begin their positions and looks forward to working with both directors.

Source: Independent Record

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock filled several key cabinet and adviser positions on Friday, including appointments to the state’s departments of agriculture and fish and wildlife.

Six cabinet members and key staffers resigned before the Democratic governor started his second term this month. With Friday’s announcement, vacancies remain in two departments: commerce and corrections.

Martha Williams

University of Montana law professor Martha Williams was named as the director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Bullock spokesman Tim Crowe said she will begin Feb. 1.

Williams teaches law classes on the environment, wildlife, public land and natural resources, according to her University of Montana biography. She previously was the U.S. Department of the Interior’s deputy solicitor and before that, an attorney for FWP.

Williams will replace Jeff Hagener, who served under three governors in 12 years in the position.

Members of the Montana Wildlife Federation said they are looking forward to working with Williams.

“Martha Williams has a distinguished career in wildlife management law and policy, including having worked for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in the past, as well as experience with other federal land and wildlife agencies,” Executive Director Dave Chadwick said.

Chadwick said Williams will be the first woman to be named FWP director in Montana, and said she’s one of few in the country.

“It’s pretty rare unfortunately,” he said. “There are not many wildlife agencies that have women as directors.”

Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture worker, will become the new director of the state Department of Agriculture. Most recently, Thomas was the federal agency’s deputy undersecretary for its marketing and regulatory programs.

Thomas replaces former director Ron de Yong, who also was agriculture director under former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Kim Mangold, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, will be interim director until Thomas arrives. Mangold, who has served as deputy director for a year and a half, said she didn’t know exactly when Thomas would take over, but expected it would be several weeks. Mangold worked with Thomas when he was an aide for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.

“We have a very good working relationship,” she said. “We’re very happy he’s going to be taking the position.”

Replacements for Mike Batista at the Department of Corrections and Meg O’Leary at the Department of Commerce still have not been hired, Crowe said. Two deputy directors, Doug Mitchell in commerce and Loraine Wodnick in corrections, are heading those agencies temporarily.

Bullock announced other key staffing changes:

Ken Fichtler

Ken Fichtler will become chief business development officer, heading the governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Fichtler has spent his career in high-tech business management and marketing. He is also an entrepreneur and business investor, having started Montana companies like Gecko8 Studios and Fermion Technologies, as well as co-founding the first and largest TEDx event in the state, TEDxBozeman. Most recently he has served as the senior marketing specialist for Lattice Materials. Fichtler is a graduate of the Montana State University School of Business.

Patrick Holmes

Patrick Holmes replaces Tim Baker as Bullock’s natural resource policy adviser.

Holmes most recently served as the chief of staff to the undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. During his tenure at the Department of Agriculture, he was trusted to provide counsel to the secretary of agriculture on issues related to forest restoration, innovative wood products, working lands conservation, wildland fire, and others affecting the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. He holds a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University and a bachelor of arts in natural resources management and policy.

Baker has been appointed to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and Jennifer Anders has been reappointed to the council.

For the last four years, Baker has served as Bullock’s natural resource policy adviser. In that capacity he has worked on issues ranging from energy development and water use, to wildlife, state lands, and mining. He will continue to advise the governor on energy policy. Baker was born in Detroit, Michigan and after graduating from the University of Michigan, he moved west to attend law school at the University of Montana. He worked for the Montana Public Service Commission as a staff attorney and chief counsel, and then with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, where he focused on air quality. After leaving state government he was executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, and was working for Montana Trout Unlimited when Bullock asked him to return to public service.

Anders was first appointed to the council in 2013 by Bullock. Prior to her appointment, she represented the state of Montana with the Attorney General’s office in civil and criminal cases on land use, water law and resource development issues. Anders holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California and a law degree from the University of Montana.

Jessica Rhoades

Jessica Rhoades leaves the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to become the governor’s health policy adviser.

Rhoades has 16 years of experience in health care and public policy. Prior to her appointment, she was the policy director for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, where she oversaw the work of the Governor’s Council on Health Care Innovation, which resulted in Montana being selected to pioneer a public-private partnership for the largest primary care reform initiative of its kind in the U.S. She previously served as health policy adviser for former Gov. Brian Schweitzer and before that worked for the Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. She was northwest region public affairs director for a national health care provider, covering 14 states including Montana.

Ronja Abel

Bullock’s deputy communications director, Ronja Abel, will become communications director with Tim Crowe departing to take a position with the Montana National Guard.

Abel has served as Bullock’s deputy communications director for the past year and previously, she served as communications director for the Montana Department of Commerce and as program specialist for the Montana Small Business Development Center Network.

Independent Record reporters Holly Michels and Erin Loranger contributed to this report. 

Montana Stockgrowers Association Opposes Initiative I-77

I-177 is an initiative that will appear on the ballot this November. The measure bans the use of traps for preventing the spread of disease and controlling dangerous predators on public lands in Montana. The Montana Stockgrowers Association’s (MSGA) vision is to exemplify leading innovation in ranching while preserving Montana’s complex natural landscape, history, economy, ethics and social values. I-177 fails to embody the vision of Montana’s ranching sector.

I-177 does not allow today’s advanced and ethical methods of trapping, to occur until after all non-lethal methods have been tried and found unsuccessful to prevent killing of cattle, thus deteriorating a rancher’s means to invest in environmental stewardship.

MSGA has worked proactively with the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and other stakeholders to evaluate trapping season structures, quotas and establish setbacks on public lands to avoid conflicts. Our system has worked and continues to work for Montana.

We cannot afford to limit Montana’s ability to manage public landscapes. MSGA encourages you to vote “no” on I-177.

Gene Curry
Montana Stockgrowers Association

Governor Gets Final Say in Year Round Bison in Montana

Source: Northern Ag Network

If the Montana Department of Livestock and the Fish Wildlife and Parks can’t come to agreement on an issue of bison management, the governor gets to decide is the advice that the Montana Attorney General’s office is giving the Board of Livestock (BOL).  In this case, it means that Yellowstone Park bison will get to be in Montana year round.
In April, the BOL had received a letter from the governor stating that since they had been unable to come to agreement with the Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) regarding a management change to the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IMBP) to allow year round tolerance for bison in West Yellowstone and Gardiner, the governor would make the final decision and sign for them.

The BOL followed up to the Montana Attorney General’s Office, requesting a legal opinion regarding the legal roles of the agencies and the govenor in deciding the bison tolerance zone.  The AG’s office has responded with a confirmation of the Governor’s statement, that “on bison management issues, the two departments, Department of Livestock and FWP, must cooperate, and any management conflicts are resolved by the Governor.”
Mike Honeycutt, Executive Officer of the Department of Livestock outlined the AG’s response.  “The Department of Livestock has powers and duties to manage bison when they present a disease risk.  The Fish Wildlife and Parks has responsibility to manage wild bison when are not a disease risk.  If there is any potential for disease risk, FWP is supposed to cooperate with the Department of Livestock in that respect.”

“At the end of the day, if those two agencies can’t to come to an agreement on precise points of policy and how to get things done, the governor, as the executive of the state, has the power to make the decision for the agencies, tell them that this is where the lines are going to be and this is how each agency is going to carry out its legal responsibility around that decision that the governor has made,” Honeycutt said.
“I know that may not be an answer a lot of people in our industry want to hear.  I think they might have wanted to hear that the park boundary is the park boundary and that’s where we are supposed to push bison to,” acknowledged Honeycutt.

The BOL also asked for help to clarify the department’s responsibilities in bison management in the new tolerance zone.  The AG’s office responded that the state statutes in place are very clear.  Whether the border is the park boundaries or the new tolerance zone, the DOL’s job is to prevent disease transmission from the bison to cattle.

Honeycutt explained, “Our job, at this point from the Department of Livestock, is where maybe the old boundary was pushing all bison back to the park, our job now making sure that bison stay in the zones where they have tolerance and that our employees are keeping the separation between them and the cattle herds that will be grazing for the summer.

Honeycutt said “We are still in the position of making sure we maintain separation between potentially diseased bison and where cattle herds will be operating at.”

“We do not want potentially diseased bison occupying, in any shape or form, the same space that’s going to be occupied by summer grazing cattle.”

CLICK HERE to read a copy of the letter from the Attorney General’s office

MSGA continues to oppose Bison Expansion | concerns left unaddressed

Governor’s bison plan OK’d; will reduce hazing near Yellowstone

Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle

WEST YELLOWSTONE — State, federal and tribal agencies agreed on Wednesday to adopt the governor’s plan to allow some bison to stay in Montana year-round, a move officials say will reduce bison hazing done each year near West Yellowstone.

The change will let a certain number of bison stay year-round on Horse Butte near West Yellowstone and north to the Buck Creek drainage, located just south of Big Sky, without being chased back into Yellowstone National Park. The decision also calls for year-round tolerance for male bison north of Gardiner into Yankee Jim Canyon.

At an Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting here, none of the tribal or federal agencies objected to the governor’s December decision, meaning the plan has essentially been approved.

“This a day to be celebrated,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional supervisor Sam Sheppard.

The change comes as an amendment to the 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan, which specifies procedures and population goals for the nearly 5,000 bison that live in the Yellowstone region.

Some tolerance for the animals had already existed outside of the park, but the governor’s decision adds significantly more land to the tolerance zone on the west side, where bison had been hazed back each year.

The decision sets seasonal limits on the number of bison allowed to remain west of the park — 450 from September through February, 600 from March through June, 250 in July and August. When bison numbers exceed that, the state could chase them back across into Yellowstone.

Those figures reflect the number of bison officials expect to see outside of the park in each season. They expect many of the bison that come out in the spring will migrate back into Yellowstone on their own before July, meaning they wouldn’t need to be hazed. Sheppard said the decision “allows bison to do the work for us.”

The decision doesn’t eliminate hazing. Bison still won’t be allowed near the South Fork of the Madison River, so after May 15 they will be chased to either the tolerance zone border or the park border, whichever is closer.

Hazing would still happen on the north side of Yellowstone each year, starting May 1. The decision only allows male bison to roam north to Yankee Jim Canyon year-round, not females.

Female bison raise concerns for livestock producers during the spring calving season because of the disease brucellosis, which can cause cattle to miscarry. The disease is transmitted through afterbirth, and more than half of Yellowstone’s female bison are believed to have been exposed to it. No case of bison transmitting the disease in the wild has been documented.

Still, hazing is one way the IBMP tries to eliminate the risk of disease transmission.

Montana Department of Livestock state veterinarian Marty Zaluski said if there is a mixed group of male and female bison that are in that area, officials won’t attempt to sort the male bison out.

“If there’s a mixed group, then that group will go back,” Zaluski said.

“We’re not in the business of sorting bison,” added Rob Tierney, bison program manager for the Department of Livestock.

Sheppard said that by that time, most bison have usually left the Gardiner Basin for lands inside the park anyway.

Tom MacDonald, fish and wildlife division manager of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said the plan to expand tolerance was a “logical step forward in managing bison.”

Environmental groups and buffalo advocates were pleased with the partner agencies giving the plan a thumbs up Wednesday. During the public comment portion of the meeting, representatives of a few groups thanked the IBMP partner agencies. But it isn’t the end of the fight for them.

“We hope this decision drives further advancements for Yellowstone bison, which unfortunately continue to be shipped to slaughter when they leave the park in search of food in the winter,” Stephanie Adams of the National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement.

On the other side, Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said his group still opposes the governor’s decision. He said they worry that budgets for FWP and the Department of Livestock will be stressed by increasing how much land bison can use since it might require more on-the-ground work. He is also concerned that government officials will ask for even more tolerance in Montana, rather than reducing the number of bison in the region.

“I don’t think our concerns have been addressed,” Bodner said in an interview.

The agencies involved are currently working on a new Interagency Bison Management Plan, and a draft is expected out sometime this year.

Over the next few days, the current plan will be amended to include the governor’s proposals. Each agency involved is expected to formally sign off on the changes later this month, after which the document will be posted online.

© Copyright 2016 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2820 West College Bozeman, MT

FWP Planning for the Future with Statewide Listening Sessions

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is looking for public input on values, needs and priorities as part of its ’15 & Forward initiative to plan for the next 10 years. There will be nine listening sessions around the state starting Monday, July 20 through Wednesday, August 12.

FWP’s vision update will be a foundation on which it builds programs and services that hold the most value for the public and Montana’s fish, wildlife, recreation, cultural, and state park resources in the years ahead.

“It has been over 20 years since FWP last took a department-wide look at planning for the future and established its current Vision for the 21st Century,” said FWP Director, Jeff Hagener. “It is time to update this document and set program goals and design services that reflect our current context.”

Hagener stressed that public input is critical to the process. “FWP would like to understand if we are meeting your needs, what we can do to serve you better and get your thoughts on where we need to put our focus in the upcoming years.”

FWP is hosting public listening sessions in communities around Montana from July 20-Aug. 12. The schedule is as follows in the table below.2015 FWP Listening Session Dates

Each listening session will last three hours and refreshments will be provided. The public is encouraged to RSVP by emailing, or calling Deb O’Neill at (406) 444-3755. Follow FWP on Facebook for more event information and reminders. You can also can learn more and provide ideas and input online at by following links to “Submit Public Comments” and “Doing Business.”

The FWP vision update is expected to be complete at the end of 2015

Elk-Brucellosis Discussion in Bozeman January 17

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks logoMontana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will host a half-day discussion on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman, Saturday, Jan. 17, on topics related to the transmission of brucellosis from elk to cattle in southwestern Montana.

FWP has assembled a diverse group of experts to discuss brucellosis in elk, disease genetics, and livestock investigation techniques and processes. A panel discussion among presenters will be facilitated by Dr. Mike Mitchell, leader of the University of Montana’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit.

“FWP has heard from some constituents about providing more information on the science that identifies elk as one possible source of brucellosis infection in cattle in parts of southwestern Montana,” said Jeff Hagener, director of FWP in Helena. “In response, we’ve assembled this presentation to illustrate that science.”

The session is designed to describe, inform and discuss data addressing the potential for some elk in southwestern Montana to infect livestock with brucellosis, a disease that can cause some pregnant bison, elk and domestic cattle to abort their first calf.

The talks are open to the public and are set for 8:30 a.m.—Noon on Jan. 17 at 101 Gaines Hall on the MSU campus. For a full agenda visit FWP online at; click “Fish & Wildlife”, then click “Elk“.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks logo

Comments Needed on New State Land Access Program Rule

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks logo

The Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission is seeking comment on a proposed rule that would offer tax incentives to private landowners who provide public access to state lands.

The proposed rule is in response to a new law that established the Unlocking State Lands Program. Under the program, landowners can receive a $500 tax credit by providing public access to a parcel of state land through contractual agreements with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. A tax credit would be offered for each qualified access point, with a limit of $2,000 per year, per landowner.

The law requires the commission to adopt administrative rules for establishing contracts that address duration of access, types of qualified access, and reasonable landowner-imposed restrictions.

The law becomes effective Jan. 1, 2014 and terminates Dec. 31, 2018.

Public comment on the draft rule will be accepted through, Dec. 27. Copies of the draft rule and comment forms are available online at, click “Public Notices“. E-mail comments to; or mail to Alan Charles, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.

Sage Grouse Habitat Montana

Meetings Set to Discuss Draft Sage Grouse Strategy

Sage Grouse Habitat Montana(Release from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks)

The governor-appointed Greater Sage-grouse Habitat Conservation Advisory Council will host seven public meetings later this month to examine a draft sage grouse habitat conservation strategy.

The draft strategy was developed over the past six months by the citizen-based advisory council. It details a state-led effort to address threats to the species as identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to preclude the need for listing the sage-grouse as a federally threatened or endangered species.

The strategy recommends the development of a conservation fund to support land stewardship practices beneficial to sage-grouse and a set of stipulations for state agencies to adhere to when permitting development and other activities in sage-grouse habitat. The strategy also includes recommended management practices for enhancing sage-grouse habitat.

The public meetings will be aimed at discussing and examining the strategy and taking comment on the council’s recommendations. Public meetings are scheduled for:

  • Dillon              Nov. 13; 6-8 p.m.        U of M–Western, Mathews Hall, Lewis & Clark Room
  • Billings             Nov. 18; 6-8 p.m.        FWP Region 5 Headquarters
  • Baker               Nov. 19; 1-3 p.m.        Senior Citizens Center
  • Miles City        Nov. 19; 7-9 p.m.        Miles City Community College, James P. Lucas Bldg.
  • Glasgow           Nov. 20; 6-8 p.m.        Cottonwood Inn &Suites
  • Malta               Nov. 21; 12-2 p.m.      First State Bank
  • Lewistown       Nov. 21; 6-8 p.m.        FWP Lewistown Area Office

Council members and FWP will be on hand to discuss the strategy and the information displayed. Written comment can be submitted at each public meeting.

Copies of the draft strategy and comment forms will be available online at Click “Sage-grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy.” Public comment on the draft strategy will be accepted through 5 p.m. Dec. 4.

The council will provide its final recommendations to Gov. Steve Bullock in January. For more information, call 406-444-2612, or visit the FWP website at