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Management in the Elkhorn-Elkhorn Working Group

Elkhorn Home page     History and Management

The Evolution of Collaborative Wildlife Management in the Elkhorn Mountains
Elkhorn Mountains Working Group

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Newsletters: Winter 2014 Winter 2010  Winter 2008  Summer 2006
Meeting Minutes: September 5, 2013  July 11, 2013

Elkhorns Working Group Statement of Interest
Elkhorns Vegetation Study Phase I - Final Report 2004
Elkhorns Vegetation Study Phase II - Final Report 2006

Working Group Final Recommendations
June 26, 2002

Guiding Principles    Interests    Future Conditions    Final Recommendations

Working Group Charter

Elk on a hillsideThe purpose of the Elkhorn Mountains Working Group is to advise the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the development of collaborative recommendations related to wildlife/livestock management strategies in the Elkhorn's.

The Working Group was created in response to the Fish, Wildlife, & Parks Commission's request for review of elk/livestock management in the Elkhorn's and to assist the Helena National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management in their long range planning efforts. It is also the hope of these agencies that the Working Group will be a catalyst for self-sustaining, local responsibility for problem solving in the Elkhorn's.

Guiding Principles

As members of the Elkhorn Mountains Working Group:

  • We believe that hunting is, and will remain, a primary wildlife management tool for regulating game animal populations.
  • We recognize the value of domestic livestock grazing on public land.
  • We recognize the need for public access to public lands and understand the need for seasonal management of public use.
  • We recognize that wildlife management practices contribute to hunting experiences.
  • We believe that the Elkhorn Mountains provide unique, non-consumptive recreational opportunities.
  • We recognize that management decisions regarding public land may impact private landowners.
  • We recognize that local communities and their economies are tied to land use in the Elkhorn's.
  • We believe that the public has a stake in the future management of public lands in the Elkhorn's.
  • We believe that the health and condition of the land has to come first.


  • It is in the interest of all generations to participate in public land management. 
  • It is in the interest of sport people, recreationists, ranchers, the general public and wildlife to develop a workable management plan. 
  • It is in the interest of the management agencies to define their goals to reflect current conditions and cultural changes and to have the best scientific data available. 
  • It is in the interest of all parties to have adequate funding to fully implement a plan. 
  • It is in the interest of all parties to have a plan that is flexible enough to reflect changing conditions. 
  • It is in the interest of elk and other wildlife to have habitat and forage according the their species' preferences. It is in the interest of wildlife to have ranching operations continue so that habitat is maintained and not fractured by subdividing. 
  • It is in the interest of permittees to maintain economically successful operations. 
  • It is in the interest of ranching families and the state of Montana to maintain rural lifestyles. 
  • It is in the interest of the "community" to see the agriculture industry survive. 
  • It is in the interest of the hunting public to have sustainable game populations, be able to access hunting areas, and have quality hunting experiences. 
  • It is in the interest of the hunting public to have the opportunity to hunt what they perceive as "trophy" animals. 
  • It is in the interest of all parties to know and understand the current "dynamics" on the ground and to understand the potential impacts all users have. 
  • It is in the interest of all to blend our "interests" rather than separate into "silos". 
  • It is in the interest of the Working Group to be successful in the political arena.


Desired Future Conditions - 20+ years

The Elkhorn Mountains will continue to represent open spaces, clean water, and diverse plant and animal communities managed within the context of the ecological capability of the land. With emphasis on all wildlife species including elk, well-designed management plans will facilitate a variety of recreation opportunities as well as private livestock grazing. Successful, collaborative resource management will demonstrate the value local communities place on National Forests and Public Land and will reinforce public understanding of the contribution of local communities to achieving public land objectives.

People will live in the area much the same as now with Hunting District 380 including Boulder, Radersburg, Townsend, Elkhorn, Helena, East Helena, and Jefferson City/Clancy. The rural environment and open spaces are valued and maintained and agriculture is the emphasis in the area's county and comprehensive planning. Viable ranch operations exist in the area and ranchers and land management agencies work together to maintain use of public land for grazing. An active, integrated weed control program is in place.

Public access is maintained in support of year round recreation on foot, on horses, and to some extent, in vehicles. Hunting and fishing continue as popular recreation activities along with enjoying open spaces, mountain scenery, and pastoral rural vistas. The Elkhorn's are known as an "ethical hunting environment" where sports people and landowners have good working relationships, access is available and respected, and "Block Management" continues as a tool.

Final Recommendations 

Conservation Practices and Management Strategies
Population Levels and Population Objectives
Public Involvement
Communication and Education

Administration and Funding

Continue the current Memorandum of Understanding between the USDA Forest Service (FS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP). Adjust and update where necessary to accommodate accepted recommendations from the Working Group.

  1. Consolidate the Wildlife Management Unit as one administrative unit with the understanding that the same level of local public service will continue at the existing Forest Service and BLM locations.
  2. Lobby/advocate for a line item congressional appropriation to fully implement the Forest Plans for the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit supported by a unified recommendation from local FS and BLM managers.
  3. Implement an active lands program to acquire/exchange critical wildlife habitat from and with willing participants. Seek land acquisition/exchange strategies and conservation easements as solutions to enhance forage base for livestock and wildlife.
  4. Advocate and lobby at state, local, and private levels for supplemental funds for special projects for the Elkhorn Cooperative Management Area.

Conservation Practices and Management Strategies

  • Within 12 to 24 months, develop a comprehensive vegetation inventory and utilization study for the Elkhorn Cooperative Management Area, including cooperating private landowners. Where appropriate, use data from existing analyses. Include an assessment of existing range condition and trend. Develop the study to:
    • Assure the public of objectivity.
    • Address working group objectives and parameters.
    • Better understand plant succession within the natural range of variability relative to landscape diversity and capability, and its relationship to the bio-diversity of flora and fauna in the area. Identify those areas where encroachment is occurring.
    • Identify currently important plant communities/locations for wildlife/cattle.
    • Explore how to apply fire, timber management and weed control at the landscape level (i.e., big projects). f. Identify what should be monitored for long term trends.
    • Identify trigger mechanisms that would suggest the need for changing management strategies.
    • Determine to what degree elk and livestock grazing are impacting vegetation and where there are forage deficiencies and excesses.
  • Upon completion of the study, develop a vegetation management plan within the authorities of the managing agencies and in conjunction with the Working Group and private landowners to include:
    • Establishment of management objectives for all wildlife species relative to available habitats in the Elkhorn's.
    • Continuance of hunting as a management tool for game species.
    • Annual grazing strategies to encourage elk to use public land. Use cattle grazing, supplement placement, fencing, and fire to manipulate livestock to use less utilized forage with the intent of improving forage palatability for elk. Monitor response as predicted.
    • Management of riparian areas as follows: · Construct riparian pastures and utilize supplements to attract livestock away from riparian areas. · Implement strategies that encourage sedge and other native riparian plant growth; enhance beaver habitat. · Relocate watering sources outside riparian areas where possible.
  • Work with all interested parties to analyze, design, and implement timber, fire and weed control management strategies that enhance and increase the forage base.
  • Set post-wildfire objectives for the area and implement post-fire management strategies as follows:
    • Consider leaving some areas unmanaged.
    • Thin in some thick stands; use logging under certain conditions.
    • Aggressively control weeds and seed.
    • Reintroduce fire on the landscape under certain conditions.

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Population Levels and Population Objectives

  1. Clarify current ways to quantify population levels and manage elk and cattle so the public understands why and how decisions are made. Within the next 24 months, develop a distribution map of elk per seasons of the year.
  2. Continue, and where possible expand, the FWP Block Management Program to provide additional hunter access and promote adequate elk harvest on private land.
  3. Explore mandatory reporting for elk harvesting.
  4. During the next 24 months, we recommend that FWP attempt to stabilize the current elk population in the Elkhorn Mountains. In order to maintain that population, the current season structures would remain in place, utilizing a combination of cow permits and A-7 tags. The number of permits issued would be based on current survey and harvest data. Game damage techniques, early or late damage hunts or other methods to respond to unforeseen or unexpected problems on private land will continue to be utilized. Acknowledging the recommendation to stabilize the current elk population, continue current Elk Plan Objectives for Hunting District 380.
  5. During the next 24 months, grazing on allotments would continue under the current AMP's and grazing permits. Problems with grazing practices or conditions that arise will be identified in a timely fashion and addressed by the Forest Service or BLM and the permittee. 

Public Involvement

  • By September 30, 2002, establish a permanent version of the Working Group to improve communication and collaboratively honor all interests including agencies/technical experts, public groups, individuals, and private landowners. Hold scheduled meetings (including annual field trip) to:
    • Find funding and develop lobbying and advocating strategies.
    • Review sportsmen, landowner and public input.
    • Review FS and BLM consolidated Wildlife Management Unit work plans and monitor results.
    • Review management objectives and strategies for all wildlife species.
    • Provide FWP with annual and long term recommendations related to elk population levels and management strategies.
    • Monitor and explore issues such as forage sustainability and adequacy to feed wildlife and cattle; economic viability of area ranches and local communities; and recreation use in the area.
    • Monitor overall implementation of the Forest Plan.
    • Work to improve the public's acceptance of public land management.
    • Monitor the effectiveness of the Working Group's communication plan and lobbying efforts.
  • Make every effort to involve stakeholders in development of management plans and strategies.
  • Create ways to include permittees in interdisciplinary discussions related to development of Allotment Management Plans (AMP).
  • Continue to explore concepts used in other areas to determine if those strategies would be useful in the Elkhorn's.

Communication and Education

  • We recommend that the agencies reiterate the purposes of the unique designation of the Elkhorn's as a Wildlife Management Unit, stressing the importance of wildlife resources, while at the same time retaining grazing on the forest as a legitimate activity.
  • Implement a comprehensive educational program (i.e., interpretive signs, walks, school programs, local groups, media) to:
    • Describe and explain plant succession, the ecology and biology of the area, and social and cultural aspects.
    • Explain that plant succession continues to occur in the absence of disturbance and that modification of plant succession is necessary to achieve management objectives for the area.
    • Encourage respectful recreation use of public land and respect for private landowners.
    • Cite and explain successful co-existence of elk and cattle and mutual benefits of elk and cattle.
    • Discuss the benefits of open space and maintaining land in private agricultural ownership rather than subdivisions and development, etc.
    • Initiate Elkhorn's history education project and centennial celebration.
    • Explain to the public the purpose and structure of the working group.
  • Institutionalize ongoing communication between federal land management agencies and FWP regarding "problem" grazing areas and appropriate elk numbers, particularly while forage recovery efforts are being made.
  • Publicly recognize private and public stewardship practices.
  • We recommend that FWP continue to respond to all damage complaints on private land within the statutory responsibility.
  • We recommend that all agencies develop a consistent documentation protocol to be used by private landowners or permittees regarding game animal problems.
  • We recommend ongoing communication with the public to include an explanation of how counts are done, monitoring efforts in the Elkhorn's, current issues, and other topics to be identified in the future.