- Associated Press - Thursday, November 13, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - State wildlife officials approved a plan Thursday to issue elk-kill permits to landowners in southern Montana to help reduce the spread of disease to cattle.

The plan passed by Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners will allow up to 250 elk to be taken by permitted landowners and hunters during hunts in the 2015 season meant to disperse elk herds.

It also includes the use of hazing to keep elk away from cattle, as well as fencing paid for partly by the state, habitat modifications and other efforts to affect the distribution of elk.

The aim of the plan is to keep infected elk from spreading brucellosis. Cows infected with the disease can prematurely abort their young.

Quentin Kujala with the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says the strategy represents a reasonable response to the disease risk.

“We know that there are pieces people don’t like and that there are pieces people are insisting that they need in their tool box,” Kujala said referring to landowners and people with sporting interests.

Ranchers outside Yellowstone National Park are required to vaccinate and test cattle for exposure to the disease. They’ve pushed for more to be done about infected wildlife, but hunters and other conservationists worry about too many elk being removed.

During last year’s hunts to disperse herds, seven elk were killed. In comparison, 2,653 were taken during the 2013 regular elk season in hunting districts that are all or partly within the state’s designated brucellosis surveillance area, Kujala said previously.

He also emphasized the plan includes several checks and balances and annual reviews to assess how the plan is working.

“There will be an annual review in August and subsequently any decision or implementation is never more than a year away from commission review and public process,” he said.

Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation called the management actions extreme.

A lawsuit over the 2014 plan filed by the Skyline Sportsmen’s Association and the Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club recently was voluntarily dismissed, according to Jeffrey Tierney, an attorney for the clubs. The suit claimed state officials did not adequately review last year’s elk-brucellosis management plan.

The clubs, although encouraged by FWP’s efforts to work with them and other interest groups, have reserved the right to refile the lawsuit over the 2015 plan, Tierney said.

The sportsmen remain concerned that the upcoming actions are not supported by adequate environmental impact review, as required by law.

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