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Montana's backcountry wolf hunt criticized after surprisingly quick kills

October 8, 2009 |  9:59 am

Gray wolves wander through the snow in Montana.

*Updated to clarify details regarding hunting zone WMU 3

The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council was quick to criticize the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency after its wolf program coordinator acknowledged that an early backcountry hunt wasn't going as planned because a surprising number of wolves had been killed in a very short span.

The hunt is in progress in Montana's remote Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness along the northern border of Yellowstone National Park. It began Sept. 15 in a small parcel within what is known as Wildlife Management Unit 3. WMU 3 has a quota of 12 but nine wolves already have been killed and it's conceivable the quota will be reached before the statewide general hunt in WMU 3 begins Oct. 25.

Carolyne Sime, the wolf program coordinator, said in a Billings Gazette story that she "didn't think the wolves would be so vulnerable to firearms harvest."

One of the goals of the overall hunt is to encourage wolves to remain in the backcountry away from potential conflicts with livestock. "So what we're learning," Sime said, "is that maybe we need to rethink these backcountry hunts and see if we can fine-tune that."

The front-country wolves, those more likely to come into conflict with livestock, will be targeted during the general season.

Matt Skoglund, blogging for Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote: "How could FWP have expected anything else when they opened the backcountry wilderness areas to wolf-hunting?" Skoglund stated that wolves sought by hunters in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness are "those famous Yellowstone wolves you've seen in the park or on PBS and the Discovery Channel." The blogger wondered whether the "poorly planned hunt" will affect tourism in Yellowstone.

The answer, most likely, is that it will not affect tourism. The quota in this district is only 12 wolves. Montana's wolf population at the end of 2008 was believed to number 500. The overall state quota is 75, which is deemed conservative by the agency, which regards hunting as a necessary wildlife management tool.

But as long as Montana's inaugural wolf hunt continues -- legal  challenges remain -- it will be open to this kind of attack by animal rights groups.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Gray wolves wander through the snow in Montana. Courtesy of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks