GREAT FALLS — When Governor Steve Bullock issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Montana at the end of March, he made a point to include leaving your home for outdoor activity as essential.
Despite that declaration, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks made several of their own policy changes in an effort to keep people safe, while doing their best to avoid limiting the public’s access to outdoor recreation areas as much as possible.
“We’ve done quite a few things. We’ve closed our offices and our visitors center to the public. We have closed down overnight camping on our sites, so that includes state parks, and we’ve closed our group-use facilities, so group-use pavilions at our day-use sites are closed,” said FWP Spokesman Greg Lemon. “And then we suspended nonresident turkey and bear hunting until at least April 24th to be in line with the Governor’s directives. We canceled the paddlefish season on the Yellowstone River. There’s only a few sites where folks take advantage of that fishing opportunity, and they can get very crowded, and so to be in line with the Governor’s directives, we canceled that season. We’ve suspended float and recreation on the Smith River Corridor that we manage through April 24th as well.”
Despite all of these cancellations and suspensions, officials are not worried about the potential ripple effects that they could have on the state’s economy or its ecosystem.
Lemon explained that because there are other times to hunt for turkey and black bears in Montana, losing the spring season would likely not result in overcrowding, as long as the fall season takes place as scheduled in a few months.
“The thing with both turkey and bear is, we have so much hunting opportunity in Montana that you can hunt turkey and bear in the fall as well,” he said. “So, those licenses, there’s a couple of exceptions, but for the vast majority of people that have those licenses, they can take advantage of them in the fall too.”
Bullock, as well as FWP, are also encouraging people to try and get outside whenever possible, provided they continue to abide by social distancing guidelines. Because of this, Lemon says that they are actually seeing higher than normal use of fishing access sites.
“If people are thinking they want to go and fish or go and walk at a fishing access site and they show up and it’s busy or if they’re wanting to go visit a state park and they show up and the parking lot is full, just to keep in mind that that might not be the right time and the right place to go,” he said. “Be very cautious about being socially distant, even when outdoors recreating.”