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Hunters, landowners oppose proposal to open Yellowstone River near Forsyth to bird hunting

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Posted at 1:03 AM, Mar 29, 2024

FORSYTH - For the past 66 years, an 87-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River between the Big Horn River and the Rosebud-Custer county line has been closed to bird hunting to bring back the geese population.

Fish, Wildlife & Parks may want to change that and open up the river to waterfowl hunting which could change things for hunters and landowners in the area.

“This is world-renowned for the goose hunting on this section,” Troy Sams, an outfitter said about land near Forsyth. “It's just beautiful. It's nature at its best. Their natural habitat coming up out of the river landing in those fields to feed."

Sams owns Trophies West Outfitters and hunts for geese in the Forsyth area.

"Knock on doors, visit this public ground, get signed up for block management,” Sams said. “There's tons of opportunity over here."

He's worried that the hunting opportunities could disappear if FWP opens up that section of the river that was first closed to waterfowl hunting in 1958.

"A lot of them migrate from Canada,” said Brett Dorak, FWP region 7 wildlife manager. ”And the highline portion of the population comes through kind of eastern, the central portion of the the flyway of Montana down into Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska."

Dorak works out of FWP Miles City office and says the ideal geese population coming through Montana is around 300,000. But now those numbers range from 400,000 to 500,000.

"The department has proposed to lift that restriction based on the biological finding and the goose numbers," Dorak said.

Some ranchers and farmers can see that increase and like having the geese on their land.

"The feed base is enormous,” said Bill Asay, “That's what attracts them. But the river is what keeps them there."

They say if the river is open to hunting and a goose is shot, it could end up on their property.

"And there's a host of problems with trespassing,” said Gina Asay, Bill’s wife. “People's livestock, going through their crops."

An FWP survey shows 31 percent support keeping the river closed, and 26 percent oppose the current closure.

"I think the landowners are afraid that they're really going to lose the birds because they like the birds and lose control of their property," said Rep. Gary Parry, R-Colstrip.

"It's been good," said Steve Christian, a hunter. "It's been in place for 66 years. Why change it?"

While some worry that the geese will go somewhere else, FWP expects the numbers of birds harvested to remain close to the same.

"Biologically we don't anticipate a negative impact on the goose population as a whole," Dorak said.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission meets on April 17 in Helena. While Thursday was the last day to submit comments, there will be a chance to comment at the meeting.