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Montana ups wolf quota to make up for lost season

PREDATORS -- Hunters would be able to remove up to 220 gray wolves from Montana’s landscape this fall under a tentative quota and seasons adopted Thursday by the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission and reported in the Helena Independent Record.

The proposed quota is nearly triple the state’s only previous hunting season allowed in 2009, but models used by the state indicated the overall reduction of wolves would be modest. Biologists say the hunt likely would decrease wolf numbers from the current known 566 wolves in 108 verified packs to between 425 to 526 wolves.

The modeling takes into account wolves removed for livestock depredation and other causes, as well as the pups born this year, according to Ken McDonald, FWP fish and wildlife bureau chief.

Read on for more details from the IR report.

“Both the structure and the quota will be open for public comment starting (Friday) and go through June 20,” McDonald told the commission and a standing-room-only crowd. “We’ll bring it back to you at the July (12) meeting … and the licenses can go on sale in August, since the archery season begins in September.”

Without a hunting season, McDonald said the state population would grow to 632 to 647 wolves, well above Montana’s minimum population goal of 150 wolves.

The tentative quotas are spread among 14 wolf management units, up from three in 2009. The season dates would coincide with other big game hunting seasons, with archery running from Sept. 3 to Oct. 16 and the backcountry big game season beginning on Sept. 15. The general wolf hunting season would run from Oct. 22 until Dec. 21.

Commissioners approved a harvest quota of 186 wolves across 13 wolf management units for the 2010 season, but that was blocked by a federal court lawsuit that put wolves back on the list of endangered species. They were removed from the list in Montana and Idaho by an act of Congress in April, which allows the newest hunting season to move forward in those two states. Idaho, home to at least 705 wolves, also is preparing for a wolf hunt.

McDonald noted that the new regulations wouldn’t allow more than 20 percent of the quotas to be taken during the archery and backcountry seasons. This is meant to alleviate concerns in 2009 that hunters were removing the “good” wolves in the wilderness while not lessening the number that harass livestock on private property near ranches, which is one of the tools FWP is using to manage wolves.

Other hunting stipulations would require reporting a wolf kill within 12 hours and presenting the hide and skull within 10 days for inspection. If too many wolves are inadvertently removed from one management unit, McDonald added, they would reduce the quotas in an adjacent one. In addition, over-the-counter licenses wouldn’t be valid for the first five days.

About a dozen people offered comments on the proposal with some saying the quota was too high while others said it wasn’t high enough.

“This proposal of 220 wolves is almost 40 percent of the population, and I don’t believe that is a sustainable number,” said Mary Fay of Helena. “This season is an indiscriminate removal of wolves, which doesn’t target specific animals that are causing problems. It will not reduce conflicts with livestock.”

Derek Goldman with the Western Wolf Coalition added that while they’re not opposed to wolf hunts, they’re not embracing it either.

“I’m concerned that after one season you are proposing tripling of that quota from 75 to 220, especially when you consider that after the 2009 hunt the population only went up 4 percent,” Goldman said. “So I think your tripling of the quota could have more impact than expected.”

But to Steve Kamps with the Montana Bowhunters Association, 220 wolves isn’t enough.

“The Gallatin sportsmen are looking for immediate relief, and with some of the numbers we’re talking about here today, that’s not a lot of relief,” Kamps said. “Those 425 wolves at the end of the hunting season is well above the 150 that Montana has decided is its fair share.”

Jay Bodner with the Montana Stockgrowers Association cautioned that they hope the quota won’t lessen the number of wolves killed for livestock depredation.

“We like the idea of smaller management units because we’ve learned you can target areas and can address areas where there are chronic problems,” Bodner added.

Noting the diversity of comments about the quota, Commissioner Dan Vermillion said he thinks 220 is a good place to start.

Commissioner Shane Colton added that the purpose of the hunt isn’t just to benefit livestock owners, but is meant to strike a balance on the landscape so all Montanans — from hunters to wildlife watchers to ranchers — can peacefully co-exist with the gray wolf’s return to the landscape.

“This is a species that we need to manage year round,” Colton said. “I’m looking forward to listening to the comments and talk to people about the tentatives.”

Public comments on the 2011 wolf season proposal are due by 5 p.m. June 20. Final quotas and seasons will be adopted by the FWP Commission on July 14. Comments can be sent via FWP’s website at; click on “For Hunters.” They also can be mailed to the FWP Wildlife Bureau, Attn: Public Comment, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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