FWP citizen committee to advise on plan for declining mule deer in eastern Montana

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Posted at 10:26 AM, Jun 25, 2024

BILLINGS - The FWP director came to Billings to talk about the decrease of mule deer in eastern Montana and how fewer licenses are being issued.

The plan is to find a long-term way to manage that deer population.

Alexis Turner, who is going into the 8th grade, talked about a successful deer hunt with her father.

“My heart was pounding,” Turner said. “I was so nervous and excited. I didn't know up from down. We found a spot in the trees to get set up. After a 320-yard shot, I shot this deer.”

According to FWP, the reasons for the decrease are the drought starting in 2020, a severe winter in 2023, disease, and habitat.

“It was kind of a 1, 2, 3 punch from Mother Nature just driving down populations across eastern Montana,” said Brett Dorak, FWP region 7 wildlife director out of Miles City.

Dorak says the class B licenses in Region 7 for antlerless deer have decreased by 91% over the last couple of years.

“This is normal," Dorak said. "Especially eastern Montana mule deer populations, they're cyclical. It's usually about a 10-year cycle.”

And because of this trend, along with a passion for hunting from people like Alexis, FWP has put together a citizen advisory council to look at mule deer management.

“That's part of our role here at Fish Wildlife and Parks is to watch how things are doing,” said Dustin Temple, FWP director. “See what can be done and manage those resources so the public can enjoy them.”

Temple expects that with the committee's input, writing a long-term plan can start in the fall.

“We want the public to get engaged,” Temple said. “We want them to get excited about mule deer. We want them to tell us what they want. So as we write the plan going forward, we make sure and hit those expectations.”

And Temple says Turner’s experience is a good reason for proper wildlife management.

“This picture and this young lady's story is a perfect picture of how much our work matters,” Temple said.

“Hunting means a lot to me,” Turner said. “It's a bonding experience with my dad.”