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Mont. seeks new access program for hunters

Associated Press — Sept. 21, 2004

BOZEMAN, Mont. — The 2005 Montana Legislature will be asked to expand the state program that pays landowners who open their property for public hunting.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says landowner interest in the program, called Block Management, is so strong, there isn't enough money to go around.

The Private Lands/Public Wildlife Council, a citizen group, examined the program and recently made 11 recommendations, some of which the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will take to the Legislature after it convenes in January.

All the recommendations are designed to expand or improve land access.

Some focus on raising more money for Block Management, and others on incentives for landowners to participate.

Also covered by the recommendations are the improvement of maps and materials for hunters, and hiring of additional staff.

This year, Block Management has enrolled more than 1,250 landowners who together make close to 9 million acres open to hunting.

Landowners were paid $3.9 million, an average of about $3,000 apiece, and the program was administered at a cost of $1.6 million.

State officials say that last year, 80,000 hunters spent more that 450,000 hunter-days pursuing game in Block Management areas.

Proposals that may go to the Legislature include new lotteries for coveted hunting tags, a system that could raise $500,000 a year, said Ron Aasheim, a spokesman for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

A similar program in Idaho succeeded, Aasheim said.

Other recommendations include one to set aside some tags for landowners or their relatives.

The Legislature tends to view Block Management favorably, said Rep. Chris Harris, D-Bozeman, but he added that among lawmakers, "Almost nothing is more controversial than hunting and access issues."

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