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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks seeks several changes for 2010 wolf hunting season

May 11, 2010 | 11:04 am

Two gray wolves in the wild.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department has released its proposal for this year's gray wolf hunting season. It includes numerous changes, including an increased quota, a longer open season and a possible archery-hunting season.

FWP wildlife managers are seeking to increase the statewide quota to either 186 or 216 wolves, up from the 2009 quota of 75 animals. They would also like to create 14 wolf hunting units in three zones, and allow subquotas in some areas during the early season backcountry hunt, including the area directly north of Yellowstone National Park.

"In a word, it’s all about balance," said Ken McDonald, FWP’s chief of wildlife. "Smaller and more wolf management units represent lessons learned from the 2009 hunting season. Some areas contributed more to the harvest than expected and prevented us from addressing management needs in other areas. We want to adjust that to ensure a widely distributed harvest and yet still target areas where we’re seeing impacts on prey, like elk and deer, and where recurring livestock depredations are anticipated."

The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission will meet Thursday in Helena to consider the proposal. If approved, a public comment period expected to run through June 14 will follow. A final decision is scheduled to be made July 8.

McDonald noted that the proposed harvest alternatives carry specific trade-offs. "We believe both options are in line with our wildlife management responsibilities," he said. "The lower quota of 186 wolves moves us at a slower management pace, while a quota of 216 wolves allows us to move a bit more rapidly to address the wildlife and livestock depredation issues that are occurring. In both cases, we know these quotas are conservative and in line with what we think will be viewed as reasonable proposals. We need to hear how the commission and public feel about the pace and the associated trade-offs."

A wolf hunting season this year, however, is contingent on the outcome of lawsuits pending in court that were filed by conservation and environmental groups, seeking to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's delisting of gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection. Court arguments are set for June 15 in Missoula, Mont.

Should the season proceed, hunting license sales should begin in August, and will cost $19 for residents and $350 for non-residents.

"Montana's approach to wolf management continues to be balanced, scientific and measured," McDonald added. "We’ve learned a lot over the past year and our proposals for 2010 reflect a rigorous, science-based effort to manage the total number of wolves that can be taken by hunters while maintaining a balance among all wildlife, their habitats and the people who live here. That balance will include managing for a recovered wolf population while addressing livestock depredation and impacts to other wildlife. It’s our responsibility to address the fact that more than 200 sheep and about 100 head of cattle were killed by wolves last year and that wolves have depressed deer and elk populations in some areas."

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Two gray wolves in the wild. Credit: Associated Press / Southern Rockies Wolf Restoration Project

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