Action underway to have Montana manage wolves |

Action underway to have Montana manage wolves

Action is underway on two fronts to let Montana manage gray wolves after a federal judge placed the predator back on the Endangered Species list.

U.S. Senator Max Baucus recently called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to allow all Montana ranchers to protect their livestock while, at the same time, he was writing legislation to put the state’s wolves back under a wildlife management plan.

In another action, the director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, on Aug. 30, called on Rowan Gould, acting director of the USFWS, for regulatory relief so the state can manage wolves until they can be delisted.

The action follows a recent meeting of a coalition group on Aug. 20 in Helena that was formed to challenge the recent ruling that put gray wolves back on the Endangered Species list. The Helena meeting, organized by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, brought together both livestock and ag organizations and several sportsmens groups.

“This debate on wolves has gone on long enough,” Baucus said in a press release. “I am working to craft a bill that will put wolves in our state back in our control once and all, because nobody knows how to better manage wolves on Montana than Montanans.”

Last week, Baucus sent a letter to Gould, calling for him to take action to bring wolves in northern Montana under the same management rules as those in the southern half of the state and to allow all Montana landowners to protect their property from wolves.

“As you know,” Baucus wrote, “I am drafting legislation that will return the Northern Rocky Mountain population of the gray wolf found in Montana to state management.” The senator said Montana’s management plan was effective and responsible while in practice and the state should not be held hostage to the politics of policymakers in other states.

“This dual classification status and the boundary that demarcates it are arbitrary and confusing to ranchers and unnecessarily complicate state wildlife agencies’ management activities,” Baucus wrote. “Until the matter of the wolf’s protection under the Endangered Species Act is settled, Montanans require the immediate application of consistent regulations throughout the state. I request the Service down list wolves in northern Montana from endangered status to threatened and adopt special regulations consistent with the flexibility afforded livestock owners in the state’s experimental area.”

Prior to the court ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, wolves in Montana were removed from Endangered Species Act protection and were authorized to be managed by the state. Both Montana and Idaho had planned fall hunts.

Wildlife officials estimate there are 1,700 wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. That number is more than five times the benchmark of 300 wolves that was once considered the minimum for the species to be considered recovered.

As a result of the ruling, however, wolves in Montana are now back under federal management, which classified wolves in northern Montana as endangered. This rule means that north of Highway 91 the predators can’t be killed by landowners unless a human life is in jeopardy. In the southern part of Montana, the wolf population is classified as experimental, which allows landowners the right to kill them to protect livestock.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is continuing with its pledge to change the status.

“By this letter,” Joe Maurier, FWP director wrote, “Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is requesting assurances from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that a 10(a)(1)(A) enhancement of survival permit application will be processed and issued by Nov. 30, 2010 to enable an abridged conservation hunt for gray wolves in 2010.”

Maurier also requested that USFWS immediately promulgate simultaneous rules to down list the Endangered portion of the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the gray wolf, as well as a 4(d) rule to allow population management through a statewide conservation hunt.

“We view the use of public hunting as the optimum population management tool,” Maurier wrote.

“The USFWS recognized that wolves in the Montana and Idaho portion of the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS were recovered when they delisted them in 2008. Their numbers have continued to increase since then. While Judge Molloy remanded the delisting decision, his ruling did not indicate any concern with population levels or management in Montana or Idaho. His ruling was based specifically on the USFWS’s carving out of Wyoming from the delisting rule because Wyoming does not have an approved wolf management plan.

“Because wolves in Montana are recovered, because Montana has an approved wolf management plan, and because Montana has demonstrated responsible, effective wolf management, FWP is confident that implementation of a conservation hut under Section 10(a) (2010) and Section 4(d) (2011 and beyond) is legal, defensible and necessary,” the director wrote.

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