Worth the Wait

Closed WMAs give Montana’s wildlife a break

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Region 3 is home to 12 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) spread across southwest Montana. While three areas remain open year-round, the other nine managed for big-game winter range close to the public until May 15. This may seem like a long time for folks who love accessing these places for their unspoiled beauty and natural resources, but the deer and elk appreciate your patience.

WMAs—also called game ranges—were purchased by FWP to help protect vital habitat for numerous game and non-game species. WMAs provide natural elements that these animals need during the winter, including windswept slopes that expose feed and the kind of topography that helps critters escape the brutal Montana wind and cold.“Winter closures minimize stress on our wildlife,” says FWP Biologist Vanna Boccadori. “Closures ensure a lack of human disturbance at a time when these animals are burning calories just in the effort to keep warm and stay alive.”

But when 12pm on May 15 rolls around, you can expect to see anxious shed hunters, photographers, and hikers waiting for the gates to open at places like Dome Mountain WMA in Paradise Valley, Madison-Wall Creek, or Gravelly-Blacktail.

In the warmer months, WMAs provide recreational opportunities like fishing, boating, horseback riding, and camping. WMAs have a number of rules regarding vehicle use and food storage, as well as limits to camping stays.

You can find information about visiting specific WMAs and the rules associated with them by visiting fwp.mt.gov, clicking on the Fish and Wildlife tab, then selecting Wildlife Management Areas. The site indicates what recreational opportunities exist at individual WMAs and provides field guides for the species you might encounter while visiting.

Note: There’s one exception to the winter closure: Mount Haggin WMA is open to cross-country snowmobile use from December 2 to May 15 (see the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest travel map for details).

Andrea Jones is the FWP Region 3 Information and Education Program Manager.