The final numbers for this wolf hunting season look to be very close to those from last year. The six-month season ended this past Saturday. Hunters and trappers killed a total of 230 wolves, compared with 225 last season.
The very similar numbers come despite more aggressive hunting rules from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
It’s the second year trappers have been added to the state’s strategy to reign in wolf numbers--and trapping numbers actually dropped, from 97 down to 86.
“That’s a surprise to us, that hunters took less wolves this year, (we) don’t really know the reason, we would have expected with the additional licenses available that might have gone up,” said FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim.
More licenses--that’s just one of the ways the wolf season became more liberalized this time around.
“The opportunity to take up to five wolves, each individual. Nonresidents, their license price went from $350 to $50 and we saw a major increase. Last year, we had 247 nonresidents hunt wolves or buy licenses. This year, ten times that many—2300,” Aasheim said.
Aasheim said the fact that only a handful more wolves were killed this year shows wolves just remain a tough animal to hunt.
“They’re smartening up, there’s been some pressure from hunters. There’s been some pressure from wildlife services and our staff when we have depredating wolves,” he said. “They’re not gonna continue operating the way they do.”
Aasheim said the agency continues to try to find a balance with the animal.
“We know livestock depredation was down this year which is really good news,” he said. We know that Montana’s elk population, which is the primary prey base, is really in good healthy condition throughout the state. We’ve got lots of elk in lots of places. We’ve got two or three places where we know that predators and in particular the wolf is making an impact. That’s the science here, or the art: how do we get to those areas and better manage wolves?”
Last week, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission implemented a bill passed by the state legislature which allows landowners to shoot problem wolves on site without a wolf license. These could be wolves threatening people, pets or livestock on private property.
“Certainly it makes sense if you’ve got wolves that are a problem you don’t have to send a government agent out to take care of the problem. They understand there’s some control. If it looks like it’s getting out of hand there’s always an opportunity to go back and revisit that,” Aasheim said.
Last year, 75 wolves were removed by state and federal agencies and landowners for preying on livestock.