Montana opens 2013 wolf hunting season: legislative changes receive positive feedback

Heather Hamilton-Maude
for Tri-State Livestock News
Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) Portrait
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

The Montana general rifle season on wolves opened September 15 with multiple legislatively derived modifications. From a longer season to increased quotas and reduced license fees, the changes are designed to help achieve a balanced wolf population, and are supported by agriculture entities throughout the state.

“We’ve exceeded our recovery goals for 10 years with wolves, and have minimum counts of at least 625 wolves, over 35 breeding pairs and more than 140 packs within the state. There are places where wolves are impacting wildlife and causing depredation of livestock. What we’re trying to do is manage them like we would any other wildlife species – in balance with other wildlife as well as within landowner and social tolerances,” explained Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Spokesman Ron Aasheim of the major modifications passed legislatively earlier in 2013.

Among changes implemented are lower non-resident license fees, a longer season, and a five-wolf per person limit.

“The multiple tags per person can be achieved through any combination of hunting – rifle or archery – and/or trapping,” explained Montana Stockgrowers (MSGA) Natural Resource Director Jay Bodner. “We thought that was a very important point of the legislation, and that if hunters or trappers are very good at harvesting wolves, we want to give them more opportunities to get the job done.”

Another tool in the wolf management tool kit, as Montana Farm Bureau (MFBF) Vice President of Governmental Affairs John Youngberg attributed many of the legislative changes to the hunting season, is the ability of hunters to utilize mechanical calls as a means of attracting wolves.

“They also changed the dates of the season by moving it later into the spring, thus giving people more opportunities to hunt in the winter months when there is snow cover,” continue Youngberg, noting that the rifle season will run until March 15 while trapping will be allowed from Dec. 15 thru Feb. 28. Archery season wrapped up on Sept. 14.

Cost of obtaining a license was another potentially prohibitive aspect of Montana’s hunt in years past. But, with out of state licenses dropping from $350 to $50, more than 370 out of state big game hunters have already purchased a license, up dramatically from last year, when 55 had been sold at this time.

“Most of our out of state hunters are after big game, so it’s more up to chance whether they have the opportunity to take a wolf or not. By reducing the price to something more reasonable, those hunters are more likely to purchase a license in case they do have an opportunity at a wolf. We want to provide as many opportunities as we can in an effort to lower the population, allowing for improved management of the species and reduced problems for livestock producers,” explained Bodner.

Resident tags are set at $19, a price almost 6,000 Montanan’s have already paid to obtain a 2013 license.

“Montana residents agree that we need to manage wolves through hunting, and this was probably the most cooperative and supportive piece of legislation in the entire 2013 session. It passed early and had unilateral support from the land management groups, most conservation groups, as well as the landowning, hunting and trapping communities,” explained Aasheim.

However, that wasn’t to say the changes in legislation didn’t receive some backlash, primarily through more than 24,500 comments sent to Montana FWP.

“The majority of those comments had to do with trapping, and with taking wolves near the boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Ninety percent of them were from out of state or out of country, and many of them were for comments. By that I mean they came from exactly the same source, where people who agreed with that source’s viewpoint could hit a button and we received hundreds of emails from that group as a result. That’s fine, and part of our system today, but that’s also the reality of the comments received,” noted Aasheim.

Going forward into the season, both Youngberg and Bodner stated their members are showing strong support for the changes in the wolf hunt, and that they feel the legislation was a solid step toward managing lower wolf population numbers in the state.

“Our goal in being involved in the wolf hunting legislation earlier this year was to increase the scope of hunting in an effort to reduce livestock depredation. I think we have a pretty good start this year and that the legislation passed was a favorable change. Our hope now is that the hunt is successful and we can lower the population enough to help the producer,” noted Bodner.

Youngberg agreed that livestock depredation is among MFBF’s top concerns relevant to wolves. He further commented that MFBF was happy to see no legislative changes regarding the ability of Wildlife Services to immediately eliminate those wolves known to be responsible for livestock depredation as a result of the alterations to the hunting season.

“We understand that livestock depredation, disruption, movement, increased abortions and other things are major issues. The numbers may not be startling in all cases, but if you’re the producer they’re startling and very real. We’re trying to work with producers, and have a good relationship with the livestock entities in the state,” noted Aasheim of Montana FWP’s efforts to work with landowners, and their understanding as to why the agriculture sector is in such strong support of lower wolf numbers.

“This continues to be a very emotional issue, and we’re committed to having a recovered wolf population that is in balance with other wildlife, social tolerance and landowner tolerance,” concluded Aasheim of the ultimate goal behind the changes to the state’s wolf hunt.