The Montana Fish and Wildlife and Parks Commission met in Helena on Thursday, December 12 and spent most of the morning discussing the devastation of the state's whitetail and mule deer population.

Communication and Education Director for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Ron Aasheim, said that significant changes have been proposed for hunting both whitetail and mule deer next fall.

"We've had some really unprecedented things happen here in Montana to our deer populations and they are significantly below what we'd like them to be in several areas," Aasheim said. "Particularly with whitetail, the winter of 2010-2011 hit primarily the eastern part of the state pretty hard. Then, we got a disease this year that was pretty widespread in the Billings, Great Falls and the Glendive regions, called EHD, which stands for Episodic Hemorrhagic disease, and it really took a lot of whitetails."

Aasheim said mule deer populations have also been affected.

"In that instance, we've had a western region decline in mule deer," Aasheim said. "They're cyclical, in we have peaks and valleys over a ten year period, but for the past few years we've been in a valley cycle."

Aasheim said the commission is trying to address the issue so that deer populations can come back to normal.

"In response, the commission has recommended some reductions in what we call the "B" licenses, that's for antlerless deer. Statewide, they've recommended for public comment in January with a final decision in February, that we go to antlered mule deer only in the general deer season, and that we keep the antlerless deer hunting to a minimum."

Aasheim said the harsh winter in the eastern part of the state may have wiped out up to 90 percent of the whitetail deer population.

"Luckily, whitetail deer repopulate a lot more quickly than mule deer, but we're at a point where we're going to do all we can with the hunting seasons to address the issue," he said. "So far, the landowner community, the hunting community and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission along with the outfitters, we're all pretty much unanimous about giving up some opportunities to help the whitetail and mule deer populations recover."

Meetings will occur in January for the public to comment on the proposals by the commission, which will then issue a decision in February as to the upcoming fall hunting seasons.

Communication and Education Director for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Ron Aasheim