Montana Wildlife Commissioners have voted unanimously to enact more aggressive hunting and trapping rules for the gray wolf. It’s part of an effort to reduce the predator’s population, which is still higher than state biologists want. This despite recent hunting seasons put in place after wolves were taken off the endangered species list a couple of years ago.
The new rules extend the hunting season, allow more wolves to be taken by individuals and allow the use of electronic calls.
The commission did vote to scale back some of the changes—after concerns hunting was too aggressive near Yellowstone National Park.
“Every single year, you think it’s going to be easier and there’s going to be more agreement and it seems like every single year we find ourselves in about the same spot,” said Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion.
He said good people on both sides of the wolf issue still disagree on their fundamental management.
State biologists estimate last year the state wolf population dropped for the first time since re-introduction, although slightly; a minimum count of 637 wolves in 2011, dropping to 625 at the end of 2012.
Last season, hunters and trappers killed a total of 250 wolves. FWP says hunters and trappers could take up to 450 wolves and there still would be a viable population in the state. The department says that number will likely not be met even with the new, more liberal rules.
And let’s break those down:
The 2013 Legislature passed a law allowing hunters to take more than one wolf apiece.
The rules passed by the commission now allow an individual to take up to five wolves, in any combination of hunting or trapping.
The commission received nearly 25-thousand comments regarding the new rules online.
A good bit of them had to do with areas around Yellowstone National Park. Montana has no statewide quota on how many wolves can be killed. Many comments, including those from Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk, say that would too dramatically lower Yellowstone’s population. The park’s wolves generate a fair amount of economic activity in the Yellowstone region from wildlife watchers and a few of the park’s prominent wolves were killed last year.
In response, commissioner’s amended the new wolf rules to put in a total hunting quota of seven for management units around the park. In those areas, an individual can only take one wolf.
That’s still not good enough for Wolves of the Rockies representative Kim Bean.
“You take that many wolves in that area, you will take over and take care of and decimate some of these packs, it’s not right,” Bean said.
Other wildlife advocates, such as the Montana Wildlife Federation, call the new rules fair.
Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion said often the commission is accused of not listening and accommodating the public comment they receive.
“But in this case, I think we did listen to that public comment very carefully,” he said.
The general rifle season has now been extended to a full six months, from September 15th-March 15th.
That’s preceded by a short archery season and the trapping season lasts from December 15th through the end of February.