FWP Commission agrees on wolf quota By EVE BYRON - Independent Record - 06/14/08
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission agreed to allow hunters to shoot 75 wolves under a tentative quota with a final decision set for August.
Hunters can shoot up to 75 wolves this fall under a tentative quota unanimously approved Thursday by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, despite pleas from some that a wolf hunting season is premature.
The public has until July 18 to comment on the tentative quotas, as well as the commission’s decision to reclassify wolves under state law to a species in need of management, instead of an endangered species. A final quota adoption is slated for Aug. 5.
Lisa Upson with the National Resource Defense Council said they agree with the concept of a wolf hunting season as a management tool. But with the animals coming off of the endangered species list only last February, she’s concerned that the state doesn’t have enough long-term information on their viability to start a hunting season now.
She argued that the state needs to ensure that wolves are truly a recovered species, especially when it comes to genetics. She added that Montana is still learning about wolves’ existence in the Treasure State, including their breeding seasons and the effects of a harsh winter.
In addition, Upson and others noted that the state currently is party to a lawsuit brought by 11 environmental groups, who are seeking an injunction to halt the delisting of wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Bob Lane, an FWP attorney, said he expects U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy to rule on the lawsuit within the next week or so.
“I urge you to proceed cautiously, and don’t change the wolves’ status or implement a quota,” Upson said.
But Jim Anderson of Deer Lodge argued that a compromise was reached with ranchers, who didn’t want any wolves here, when the animals were reintroduced to the Rocky Mountains back in the mid 1990s, and that included the ability to manage their numbers. He called Thursday a “day of celebration” for the recovery of wolves in Montana.
“We owe it to the ranchers of Montana to make sure to honor that contract and agreement they came to at that time, and I’m wondering if we’re doing that today,” Anderson said. “Wolves are at the point where we’re near the capacity of wolves with the range in Montana, and we need to begin to manage wolves.”
Public hunting of wolves has been long been a part of Montana’s wolf conservation and management plan; the state took over management of the wolves from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the animals’ delisting in February.
Earlier this year, the FWP Commission set the hunting season to run from Oct. 26 to Dec. 31, in three hunting management units. The season will be similar to that of mountain lions, in which the season ends when the quota is reached in each management unit.
Ken McDonald, FWP wildlife administrator, said the 75 wolves under the tentative quota that could be shot represent 18 percent of Montana’s 422 wolves. He said models show that without the hunt, wolf numbers would grow to 497 by the end of 2008, including 52 breeding pairs in 98 packs. Currently, Montana has 39 breeding pairs in eight packs. The minimum population for Montana to retain management of wolves and keep them off of the list of endangered species is 100 wolves with 15 breeding pairs.
McDonald added that their model showed anywhere from 115 to 160 wolves could be shot and still have a healthy population in the state, but FWP decided to go with a lower quota just to be on the safe side.
“We felt that it’s a new thing for us, having a wolf season, so we felt it was important to take a conservative approach,” McDonald said. “There are some uncertainties about what the effects of hunting will be, so a slow approach gives us the ability to learn as we go.”
One of those uncertainties is what impact hunting will have on livestock depredation. Carolyn Sime, Montana FWP statewide wolf coordinator, noted that last year about 75 wolves were shot for preying on livestock or otherwise died — like being hit by vehicles — and she’s not sure if that will change.
Commission Chairman Steve Doherty also voiced concerns over whether the population is robust enough to withstand both hunting and diseases, but FWP officials said they are comfortable they’ll be able to maintain the population at current levels.
“Another unknown is how effective the hunters will be, how quickly they’ll fill the quotas and things like that,” McDonald added. “This is just a one-year quota, so we’ll be able to step back, see how it goes and monitor the populations as well as the harvest effort.”
But Anne Carlson, a scientist with Defenders of Wildlife, said while she’s not anti-hunting regarding wolves and believes it can be an effective management tool in the future, she still thinks hunting is premature.
“How many animals do we hunt when statewide, their population is less than 500 animals? She asked rhetorically. “… It’s imperative to proceed with great caution.”
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Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org