Outdoors

Wolf plans at different stages

As Wash- ington continues to formulate a wolf management plan and Idaho has extended the first wolf hunting season in decades, Montana wildlife managers are regrouping.

Montana’s first fair-chase wolf hunt was closed Nov. 16 after sportsmen killed 72 wolves out of a statewide quota of 75.

“As much as it was a hunt to manage wolves, it was also an experiment to see how a wolf season would work and how a hunt should be run,” wrote Mark Henckel of the Billings Gazette.

“The early-season hit on the Cottonwood Pack in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Yellowstone National Park, including the taking of the alpha female that had been tracked by radio for five years by researchers, caused a stir in the scientific community,” Henckel reported.

The pack is still viable and wolves certainly are strong across Montana, said Shane Colton, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission chairman from Billings, but the next hunting season likely will be more limited in that area.

“We do need to work to focus our harvest in areas where we’re getting depredation problems,” he said.

Indeed, despite the hunting season, Montana wildlife officials this week have ordered nine wolves to be killed by a federal trapper after repeated attacks on cattle in the Big Hole Valley.

“This is a species that will need continuous management and observation,” Colton said.

Washington, of course, is a long way from its first wolf hunt.

Only two breeding packs have been documented in the state as the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department accepts public comment on management alternatives. The comments deadline is Jan. 8.

The 12 public meetings recently held across the state were attended by 1,160 people.

No attempt has yet been made to sort out the comments from the meetings, mail or online. However, it was clear that the Seattle, Sequim and Vancouver meetings were overwhelmingly in favor of managing for large numbers of wolves while most of the Eastern Washington meetings were decidedly for low wolf numbers, said Madonna Luers, WDFW spokeswoman in Spokane.

The Spokane meeting, which attracted about 100 people, was the most balanced in the state in terms of official comments, she said.

Public comments, of course, aren’t all based in serious science.

One man recommended cross-breeding a wolf with a Chihuahua to create little “chiwawolves” that can be turned loose in Seattle to open people’s eyes as they hamstring rats and mice.

The more realistic discussion centers on issues such as:

•How many wolf packs should be allowed to form before the state begins managing wolf numbers?

•How will wolf-caused livestock losses be compensated?

The 19-member citizen panel recommended a generous compensation package in Washington’s wolf management proposals. However, no funding source is identified.

The proposed plan estimates that $326,000 would be needed in 2010 to cover the costs of hiring wolf specialists to monitor wolves and implement the program. No more than $4,000 is expected to be needed for livestock compensation in the first year.

But none of the money is allocated.

And the state’s budget crisis isn’t over.

Hunters boosted Montana’s wolf management in numbers that Washington cannot expect to match.

More than 16,500 wolf tags were sold for Montana’s first hunt despite the harsh odds. With a quota of 75 wolves, just one of every 208 hunters could fill a tag.

Those hefty sales generated $325,859. That’s not chump change, but it’s far short of more than $900,000 that’s being spent annually to manage the state’s wolves.

The breakdown: $456,000 for wildlife biologists, operations and monitoring, $157,000 for enforcement, $54,000 for education, $50,000 for legal and administration costs, $50,000 for preventative efforts and $100,000 for depredation and predator control.

Another $40,000 to $81,000 is needed for livestock compensation.

Montana and other Western states are going to be scraping for even more cash next year if a lawsuit to end wolf hunting and put wolves back on the endangered species list moves forward as filed in federal court by 13 environmental groups.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail richl@spokesman.com.



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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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