Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Commission is seeking comment on a wolf hunt proposed for the 2011 season.
Based in part on lessons learned from the state’s first regulated wolf hunt in 2009, FWP wildlife managers propose to create 14 wolf management units and an overall harvest quota of 220 wolves. Commissioners approved a harvest quota of 186 wolves across 13 wolf management units for the 2010 season, which was blocked by a federal court.
“This season proposal is very similar to the season considered last year and it’s one that is properly balanced,” said Ken McDonald, FWP’s chief of wildlife.
McDonald explained that the state’s 14 WMUs are generally situated in the western portion of Montana to target areas where impacts on elk and deer populations have occurred and where recurring livestock depredations are predicted. A new WMU is proposed to be added in the Bitterroot Valley where wolves have contributed to a significant drop in the elk population.
“We carved out smaller-sized wolf management units to allow for a more widely distributed harvest,” McDonald said.
Under the framework of the hunt, northwestern and central Montana would have nine WMUs with a total quota of 123 wolves; western Montana would have two WMUs with a total quota of 54 wolves; and the three proposed WMUs in the southwestern portion of the state would have a total quota of 43 wolves. Two of Montana’s 14 WMUs would stretch across the eastern portion of the state.
In addition, subquotas are proposed in three areas to limit harvest during early season backcountry hunts, including the area directly north of Yellowstone National Park.
Wolf hunting seasons would correspond to Montana’s early backcountry big game hunting season, which runs Sept. 3-14 for archery and Sept. 15-Nov. 27 for rifle hunting; and the big game archery and general rifle seasons set for Sept. 3-Oct. 16 and Oct. 22-Nov. 27, respectively. Wolf seasons could run through Dec. 31 if quotas are not reached. Hunting licenses will cost $19 for residents and $350 for nonresidents. License sales should begin in August.
Wildlife managers also asked the commission to consider a wolf archery season to run Sept. 3-Oct. 16, which coincides with Montana’s deer and elk archery seasons.
McDonald said a harvest quota of 220 wolves is projected to reduce the population to a minimum of 425 wolves, or by about 25 percent. These projections include anticipated reductions due to livestock depredation and mortalities from other events, like accidents and natural causes.
Public comments on the 2011wolf season proposal are due by 5 p.m. on June 20. Final quotas and seasons will be adopted by the FWP Commission on July 14. Comments can be submitted via FWP’s website at http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/default.html. Comments can also be submitted by conventional mail to: FWP Wildlife Bureau, Attn: Public Comment, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.
Montana Wolf Season Background
In 2009, during Montana’s first ever regulated wolf hunt, hunters harvested 72 wolves during the fall hunting season. As hunters approached the overall harvest quota of 75 wolves, FWP closed the hunt about two weeks before the season was scheduled to end to ensure the quota would not be exceeded.
Montana’s 2010 hunting season was blocked by a federal court ruling in August 2010 that returned wolves to the federal endangered species list.
On April 15, 2011, the U.S. Congress enacted a new federal law that provided for the delisting of wolves in Montana and Idaho—and in portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially delisted gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains on May 5, and anti-hunting groups have already filed suit in federal court to halt that delisting—a step that again puts future hunting seasons in jeopardy.
The law enacted by Congress authorizes Montana to manage wolves under the state’s federally approved Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
Federal Wolf Recovery Goal for the Northern Rockies and Current Population
The recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs—successfully reproducing wolf packs—and a minimum of 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years.
This goal was achieved in 2002, and the wolf population has increased every year since. The northern Rockies’ “metapopulation” is comprised of wolf populations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Today, about 1,650 wolves in 244 packs and about 111 breeding pairs, live in the region, where wolves can travel about freely to join existing packs or form new packs. This, combined with wolf populations in Canada and Alaska, assures genetic diversity.
In Montana, officials estimate that at least 566 wolves, in 108 verified packs, and 35 breeding pairs inhabited the state at the end of 2010.
Delisting allows Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, guided completely by state management plans and laws.
To learn more about Montana’s wolf population, visit FWP online at http://fwp.mt.gov/wildthings/management/wolf/default.html.