Wolf hunt suspended in southern Montana
Wolf hunting in southern Montana is closing just after sunset today, only a day after the general season opened Sunday, after the 12-wolf quota for the region was quickly exceeded by one.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks had suspended an early back-county hunt in a small, remote part of the region north of Yellowstone National Park after nine wolves were shot -- before the general wolf hunting season, Montana's first in modern times, even opened on Sunday. That hunt raised controversy because four wolves from Yellowstone's Cottonwood pack who had ventured outside the park, including the pack's alpha male and female, were killed.
The brief opening saw an additional four wolves in the southern Montana region quickly shot, prompting Montana officials to close down all of Wolf Management Unit 3. Hunting remains open through Nov. 29 in northern and western Montana, where an additional 10 wolves out of the state's overall quota of 75 have been shot so far. Wildlife officials have held out the option of extending the hunt through Dec. 31 if the quota isn't met in November.
State officials said two of the four wolves shot in WMU-3 on Sunday were in Gallatin County, again not far from the border of Yellowstone National Park. The other two were shot in Sweetgrass County.
Conservationists have sued to stop the removal of Northern Rockies wolves from the Endangered Species list, arguing that wolf numbers could drop precipitously, especially since there are no assurances that wolves in discrete regions of Yellowstone, northwestern Montana and Idaho will be able to connect and share genes.
But Montana wildlife management officials have calculated that wolf numbers are likely to increase, despite the hunt. While there are about 500 wolves in Montana now, even if 75 are hunted this year, there are expected to be 590 wolves in established packs across the state, and 655 wolves overall (counting wolves that go out on their own) next year.
-- Kim Murphy
Map: Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks