BILLINGS — Montana wildlife officials suspended wolf hunting near Yellowstone National Park on Thursday, after nine kills in just three weeks pushed the area’s wolf harvest close to its season-long limit.
This is Montana’s first wolf hunt following the animal’s recent removal from the endangered species list.
State officials had hoped to use the hunt to curb wolf attacks on livestock. That appears unlikely now for a large swath of the state.
So far only two backcountry areas have been opened to hunting: the Absaroka-Beartooth Wildness near Yellowstone and parts of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Those areas are far from most livestock.
The nine wolves killed to date near Yellowstone — where the suspension was ordered Thursday — represent 75 percent of the wolf season quota for most of the southern half of the state.
That means only three wolves can be harvested in the rest of the region — significantly reducing the potential to reduce livestock attacks.
State wildlife officials indicated they were surprised by how many wolves had been killed near Yellowstone in such a short time.
“We’re learning things every day,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Joe Maurier. “We were always a bit unsure about the level of hunter success we’d see in the remote, early season backcountry areas.”
The suspension will be lifted Oct. 25, the same date the general wolf hunting season is scheduled to open.
The statewide wolf quota allows hunters in Montana to take 75 of the predators this fall and winter. That’s about 15 percent of the state’s 500 wolves.
Idaho has set a quota of 200 of its 850 wolves. That’s 26 percent of the state’s population.