By Brandon Walker EBS LOCAL EDITOR
MONTANA – While many anglers have taken to the Montana waters and spring hunters are busy preparing for the approaching seasons, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is still unsure if the COVID-19 pandemic will affect hunter and angler participation this spring.
“We have seen visitation increase at some of our fishing access sites since the COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s unknown whether the pandemic will lead to an increase in hunter participation this spring,” said Morgan Jacobsen, MTFWP Region 3 information and education program manager. “Since our license year begins March 1, we typically see many customers this time of year purchasing licenses for the new year. It’s still unclear how the outbreak has affected license sales, if at all.”
Currently, there are two spring hunting seasons on the horizon: turkey season, which begins April 11 and will run until May 17, and the spring black bear season that is set to commence on April 15, according to Jacobsen. The conclusion date for the spring black bear season is dependent on which unit you are hunting within the state. Some units close for the season on May 31, while others are open until June 15.
“If hunting on private land, landowner permission is required, but should be sought by email or phone, not in person. Social distancing guidelines should be followed at all FWP sites. Keep your distance from fellow recreators. If a parking lot at a fishing access site or state park is full, consider another place to recreate,” Jacobsen said. “Also, in keeping with the governor’s directive, FWP asks that all people stay close to home and recreate in their local community.”
MTFWP has taken precautionary measures in response to COVID-19, including closing MTFWP offices to the general public, asking that people purchase licenses online and through license retailers as opposed to MTFWP offices. Additionally, all MTFWP managed recreation areas, including fishing accesses and state parks, are open only for day use. Wildlife management areas, which are not open to the public until May 15, are also restricted to day use only at this time among other closures and restrictions from MTFWP to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“Our closures…are to provide for outdoor recreation while still providing for the social distancing directives from Gov. Bullock,” Jacobsen said. “They weren’t implemented because people weren’t following social distancing guidelines.”
A moderate winter has Jacobsen optimistic that wildlife populations may experience an increase this spring as opposed to the test that the conditions of last winter presented populations. He said that counts are still being compiled in a majority of the state, but in southwest Montana the early signs are promising.
Jacobsen and MTFWP remind those taking to the field this spring that the virus and social distancing aren’t the only things to keep in mind. “Remember that bears are active in Montana as they are emerging from hibernation, so be bear aware, carry bear spray and follow all food storage regulations,” Jacobsen said. “Consult local land management agency offices for information on road closures and restrictions. When recreating on a boat, follow state laws that require the availability and use of personal floatation devices.”
Additionally, Jacobsen encouraged individuals to review the 2020 hunting and fishing regulations, which are available online or at license retailers throughout the state, before fishing or pursuing game this spring.
For more information on MTFWP closures as well as hunting season dates and regulations, visit fwp.mt.gov.