Upping the ante | TSLN.com

Upping the ante

Bill Brewster

The Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) Commission has increased the wolf hunting quota from 75 animals to 186 during a recent meeting this month but the liberalized policy is being challenged by conservation and environmental groups.

The action has pleased livestock and hunting organizations that have been concerned about impacts from the increasing predator population but it has raised the ire of environmentalists.

Several environmental groups seek to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deslisting of gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection in current court actions.

The state’s wolf hunt occurred in 2009 with a total harvest of 72 wolves. MFWP officials maintain that regulated public harvest is an important population management tool for wolves just as it is for other big game species.

According to the 2009 annual wolf conservation and management report released in March 2010, there are at least 525 wolves in the state. The report, however, showed that the population only increased by about four percent in 2009, compared to 18 percent in 2008.

But, MFWP Director Joe Maurier said the “combination of a conservative harvest by hunters, agency control and other mortality sources did not curtail the population growth.”

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The recent annual report showed that Wolf Management Unit 1 accounted for the majority of the increase. Numbers in western and southwestern Montana remained stable or showed a slight decrease.

Twenty-three packs straddle the Montana/Idaho border and 14 of them are counted in Montana. Nine others are counted in the Idaho population. Additionally, the Montana population grew of its own accord through numerous dispersals and formation of new packs, the biologists reported.

MFWP surveys show that the Northwest Montana Wolf Management Unit has at least 308 wolves in 64 packs with 23 breeding pairs.

The western Montana Management Unit has at least 110 wolves in 20 packs with five breeding pairs.

The Southwestern Montana Wolf Management Unit has at least 106 wolves in 17 packs with nine breeding pairs.

The report showed that confirmed cattle death losses increased to 97 in 2009 and confirmed sheep death losses increased to 202. Other confirmed livestock losses included four llamas, four dogs and two goats. Other injury and death losses were not verified or were deemed probable.

A total of 145 wolves were killed to prevent further depredations. Private citizens killed 10 wolves caught actively chasing or attacking livestock and no wolves were killed by special permit.

Wolf hunting licenses go on sale Aug. 23 for the regulated wolf hunting season.

Wolf licenses will be available for purchase online, from Fish, Wildlife and Parks license providers or at any MFWP office for a cost of $19 for resident and $350 for nonresidents.

Hunters need to have, or purchase, a valid 2010 conservation license to be eligible.

The licenses will be valid in 13 specifically defined wolf management units for the hunting seasons that are scheduled to open Sept. 4 for the archery season, Sept. 15 for selected backcountry areas and Oct. 23 for the general hunting season. Hunters, of course, must obtain permission to hunt on private lands.

The general wolf hunting season is scheduled to end Dec. 31, or at the point the quotas are reached.

The archery season ends on Oct. 17 and is limited to not more than 20 percent of the established quotas or sub-quotas, according to fish and wildlife officials.

With Montanans’ support, MFWP took on the new responsibility of wolf conservation and management in 2004 with some federal funding. Federal funding continued in 2009.

MFWP officials noted that Montana is focused on securing adequate funding from federal and private sources for the long term.

Wolves were delisted for a second time in May of 2009 but legal challenges continue. Montana intervened in the lawsuit by supporting delisting efforts. All legal briefs have been filed and no decision in the case has been issued at this point.

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