|In response to questions raised by Governor Marc Racicot's executive order to apply Level V restrictions to 10 western Montana counties and the anticipated mailing of 92,000 hunting permits on Friday FWP officials said today there will be a hunting season this year, but due to the extreme fire danger some hunting season openings may be delayed in some southwestern Montana areas.
FWP director Pat Graham said the Level V restrictions prohibit all manner of outdoor recreation in the affected area, including fishing, hiking, picnicking, hunting, and the use of most state parks, fishing access sites and all FWP wildlife management areas.
The Level V zone restrictions go into effect Friday, August 11, and include: Deer Lodge, Granite, Mineral, Missoula, Powell, Ravalli, Sanders and Silver Bow counties, and the portion of Lewis & Clark County that lies west of the Continental Divide.
If weather and climate forecasts are on target, Graham said the restrictions on outdoor recreation in southwestern Montana are likely to extend beyond the scheduled opening day of several of Montana's early September hunting season openings.
The upland game bird season and some moose, big horn sheep, and mountain goat seasons are scheduled to open statewide on September 1. Montana's archery season is set to open statewide on September 2.
"Unless there is a significant change in the predicted weather patterns, the early September opening of archery season, upland game bird season and our moose, sheep and goat seasons in west-central Montana will likely be delayed and similar delays could emerge in other areas," Graham said
In addition to the Level V designation for the 10 counties in western Montana, a Level IV designation has been issued for 16 additional counties in western Montana: Beaverhead, Broadwater, Cascade, Lincoln, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark east of the Continental Divide, Madison, Meagher, Park, Pondera, Sanders County that lies within the Kootenai National Forest, and Teton and Toole counties.
While Level IV does not prohibit recreation, it does impose restrictions on open fires, smoking, vehicle use, equipment use and other activities.
Graham said had the closures and restrictions not gone into effect, FWP was ready to restrict fishing on the Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers due to stress on wild trout due to low flows and life-threateningly high water temperature. In addition, Graham said FWP has created three drought-related response teams to further address statewide fishery, wildlife, and hunting-license issues.
"We are experiencing tragic drought and fire conditions that we know are now affecting our fisheries and our wildlife," Graham said.
Graham said FWP has fielded hundreds of calls since Tuesday from resident and out-of-state hunters on whether the hunting seasons will be affected by the drought, and recent forest closures.
"Today, we can only say that the drought and severe fire danger may delay the opening of some seasons in west-central Montana. Each day we will be monitoring how closures and restrictions in other parts of the state may affect the hunting seasons and immediately communicate that information to hunters and anglers in Montana and to our out-of-state visitors. It is our intention to inform resident and nonresident hunters of all anticipated hunting season delays due to area closures by August 21."
Drought-related information will be posted on FWP's website at fwp.state.mt.us. Other fire-related information is available by calling toll-free 1-877-563-2876, and via the Internet at www.fs.fed.us/r1/fire.nrcg.
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