In 1971, the Montana Fish and Game Department published a book aimed at educating folks about the management of game animals in the state. “Game Management in Montana” was very timely, as up until the period, some drastic changes were taking place in the way the department managed its wildlife species.
During early settlement of the West, little care was taken to preserve wildlife populations. With no protections, many game species suffered from overharvest and their numbers declined drastically. The initial reaction to this over harvest of game was to place restrictions on hunting throughout the territory. These early laws were seldom effective because they weren’t enforced. It wasn’t until Montana became a state and started a game law enforcement program that harvest was adequately restricted.
In those early years of hunting restrictions, the Department, legislators and the public were focused on one thing: limit hunter harvest to protect game populations. But in hindsight, they were really missing the ball. There was no basic understanding of wildlife habitat relationships and the importance of maintaining crucial habitat to support populations.
After several decades of very strict limits to hunting, wildlife began to abound again, but the laws were not relaxed to keep up with the growth of these populations. Consequently, some serious problems developed with overuse of habitat and wildlife populations went through boom and bust cycles. For instance, a herd of elk would become so abundant that the overly crowded animals would destroy their winter ranges and experience massive die offs due to starvation.
In time, the Fish and Game Department began hiring wildlife biologists to conduct research on game populations and their relationship with habitat. This sparked a major paradigm shift in wildlife management. The studies showed that hunter harvest at the right levels was very beneficial to wildlife populations, and necessary to keep them from destroying their habitat. With the new knowledge came many new opportunities for hunting in Montana.
The shift in wildlife management philosophy over time is documented well in “Game Management in Montana”, and the book helps educate people about why the Department manages game populations the way it does. In addition to explaining overall management strategies, the book also has a chapter on each game species present in the state in 1971. Both big game and upland bird species are well described. A map showing the geographic distribution of the species in 1971 is in each chapter, and where major changes have taken place, several species have range maps from 1941 and 1971 for comparison. It’s also really neat to compare the changes in distribution that have taken place in the 40+ years since the book was published.
In addition to the big game and bird species, the book also contains information of waterfowl, furbearers and predator management. Pictures of game animals are present throughout the book, the chapters are written in an easy-to-read format, and the authors do a great job of explaining wildlife management to the layman. While significant changes to wildlife management have taken place since the 1970′s, “Game Management in Montana” provides an excellent historical perspective on Montana’s game species, and is a valuable resource.