FWP mulls more aggressive wolf hunting season


State wildlife officials have given initial approval to new, more aggressive wolf hunting rules for this year’s hunting season. The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission is accepting public comment before taking a final vote on the proposal.

The new rules extend the wolf hunting season, allows more wolves to be taken by individuals and allows trappers to use bait. The proposed rules are drawing fresh criticism from wolf advocates.

Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says hunters and trappers together did take more wolves this last hunting season than the year before—a total of 225 wolves killed. But he says FWP still thinks the species can handle a more aggressive hunt.

“We’ve still got more wolves than what we would consider in balance with the rest of the wildlife out there and with landowner tolerance. So we’re still thinking we need to reduce numbers below where they are,” Aasheim said.

The rules adopted by the FWP Commission extend the wolf hunting season by a month–out to six and a half months. Individuals would be able to take up to five wolves—up from three last hunting season, through any combination of hunting or trapping.

Some conservation organizations are criticizing the new plan as going too far. Greater Yellowstone Coalition Wildlife Program Manager Chris Colligan says the GYC has supported overall Montana wolf hunting rules in the past as being a preferred model compared with Idaho and Wyoming rules. He says his organization does not feel that way about these new guidelines. Colligan says the national public analyzes wolf management in the West with a high level of scrutiny.

“And with all of the attention last year on wolf management we feel this is going to give Montana a black eye, especially with the non-hunting public,” Colligan said.

Yellowstone National Park officials also would like FWP to change the overall wolf quota in the hunting district just outside the park. That total proposed quota is seven wolves right now, Yellowstone would like that lowered due the interest of tourists in more wolves and some recent high-profile wolf killings outside the park.

FWP says they will take that into consideration.

Other groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation praise the new proposed rules. Communications Director Mark Holyoak says the rules take into account the wishes of landowners and sportsmen.

“There is a proper place for wolves, just as there is for ungulates and other predators but we need to remember that we as humans live on the same landscape as well,” Holyoak said.

“Landowners in Montana have been great about accommodating wildlife and some of the impacts and it’s our job to do what we can to mitigate those problems,” Aasheim said.

The Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission will take a final vote on the new wolf season rules during their meeting in July.

FWP predicts there were more than 600 Wolves living in the state as of the end of last year.

See the new proposed wolf hunting rules here.

Bill to hunt wolves with silencers passes crucial House vote

Courtesy Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

Courtesy Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

The Montana House of Representatives has passed second reading on a bill to allow hunters to use rifle silencers when hunting wolves. House Bill 27 would only allow silencers to be used after the general big game hunting season.

The sponsor, Representative Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman)  told the Helena Independent Record silencers help protect the hearing of hunters. He also says a company in his district makes rifles and silencers.

Washburn says about 600 Montanans already legally hunt with silencers when hunting coyote, fox, prairie dogs and gopher. He says those using silencers have to pass a 6-month federal background check and pay $250.

The House approved the bill 68 to 32. It has one more vote on third reading before moving the Senate.

Supporters say the bullets still make a loud noise when breaking the sound barrier and therefore don’t sound like silencers on TV shows. Rather, they make it much quieter just in the immediate vicinity of the gun. Representative Virginia Court (D-Billings) still voted against the bill. She worries about the impact on landowners not being able to hear where the shots are coming from. She says she hikes on her cabin property in the Tobacco Root Mountains and is “often comforted when I hear the sound of a rifle shot because at least I know that they’re in the area.”

Great Falls Democratic Representative Tom Jacobson voted against the bill while it was in the House Fish Wildlife and Parks Committee. But he changed his mind and voted for it, citing some amendments: “It’s outside of the normal season, so we don’t have to worry about that if we hunt deer or elk, it will help take down more wolves and I think it’s not an unfair advantage.”

The wolf hunting season lasts through the end of this month.

Montana begins first wolf trapping season this weekend

Courtesy Montana FWP

Courtesy Montana FWP

Montana opens its first ever wolf trapping season this weekend. Wildlife officials are hoping adding trapping will increase wolf harvest numbers after hunters continue to put up underwhelming success rates.

The decision is still creating controversy.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commissioners approved wolf trapping earlier this year, along with putting in place an extended wolf hunting season and removing the statewide kill limit for wolves.

“The department certainly has the objective to reduce the number of wolves in Montanal,” said FWP Wildlife Section Supervisor George Pauley, who oversees a number of state hunting and trapping programs.

Last year hunters fell well short of FWPs objective wolf harvest of 220. So far this hunting season the numbers are lagging behind last year. Pauley says if the department is looking to kill 380 wolves this time around, they probably won’t be able to do it with hunters alone.

Pauley says trappers could help bring the total population down from the current minimum of 650 to about 485 wolves “which, short term would be our objective for this year and then we’d lo ok to reduce the population beyond that in coming years.”

The approval of trapping has unleashed a torrent of criticism from wolf advocates around the world. An online petition trying to stop the wolf trapping season calls the practice cruel, barbaric and uncalled for. The petition has almost 3 thousand signatures. The bottom of the petition lists FWP Commission Chairman Bob Ream’s address and phone number.

Ream says Idaho was able to increase harvest numbers by 50 percent by putting a trapping season in place and Montana is looking for a way to reach those kind of numbers.

“We’re in the early stages of wolf management and we’re still learning,” Ream said, “and this is part of the learning process. Is it a risk, I don’t think it’s a huge risk. We’ll find out what happens and learn from any mistakes.”

FWP’s George Pauley says applicants had to attend a 6 hour course in order to become certified to trap wolves.

“The emphasis of those classes was to teach primarily ethics and humane and proper methods for trapping and we’re confident we got those messages across,” Pauley said.

Montana’s courses garnered a lot more interest than Idaho’s first trapping year.

“Idaho had about 950 participants in their trapper education courses,” Pauley said, “and we had a little over 2400 people attend our classes.”

Although only about a quarter of those taking the course in Idaho ended up actually trapping wolves.

Montana expects about the same rate.

The wolf trapping season begins this Saturday, December 15th and runs through the end of the wolf hunting season at the end of February.

All told, an individual is able to kill three wolves, but only one can be through hunting, the others must be trapped.

General rifle hunting season starts this weekend

Capital Sports and Western Wear stocked for the season

This weekend marks the opening of the general deer and elk rifle hunting season.

Montana City resident Jim Manning came into Helena’s Capitol Sports and Western Wear on a mission on Wednesday.

“Oh, to buy good stuff,” he said, “you can’t ever have enough guns and bullets and clothes. It’s that time of year, right?”

It is that time of year, the general hunting season. Capital Sports Co-owner Jay Sherley is walking among the racks of orange jackets, camouflage and paper targets. He says business is up.

“Oh yeah, it’s been gearing up for the last two weeks. People are excited, gearing up to get out,” he says.

And with the way things are now, it’s picking up a little sooner.

“Cause usually they wait until Thursday and Friday but now that the kids are getting out there,” Sherley said.

Yep, the state’s youth hunt. This is the second year Montana is trying out this youth hunt, giving kids a couple days head start. The deer season starts for youth ages 12 to 15 on Thursday and Friday, it opens to everyone else on Saturday, along with the elk season.

Clerks are printing a seemingly endless spool of hunting licenses over at the Fish Wildlife and Parks headquarters. For new hunters like 12 year old Luke Phillips.

“I’m gonna get my first deer, hopefully,” Phillips said.

FWP spokesman Tom Palmer says those two ‘youth only’ days line up with days kids get off for state teacher conferences.

“So a couple of years ago, someone came up with the idea of why not open a hunting season for youth on those two days,” he said.

Palmer says it’s been a successful program. Then, by the true opening day on Saturday, “we’ll probably have 100,000 hunters out on the plains, in the mountains searching for deer and elk.”

Last year 150 thousand deer hunters harvested 81 thousand Montana deer. Just over 100 thousand elk hunters took down 21 thousand elk.

Back over at Capital Sports, customer Jim Manning has set realistic goals.

“I’m gonna take my gun for a walk in the woods,” he said.

He says he’s mostly just looking to get outside. Anything else is an added bonus.

The General rifle season lasts through November 25th

Wolf hunting also continues this year in Montana. That season started October 15th and runs through February 28th. So far about nine thousand wolf licenses have been sold. Nine wolves have already been killed. The state is looking to lower wolf populations, setting no quota on the animals and also allowing trapping for the first time.

The state’s wolf trapping season starts December 15th.

 

FWP mulling new protocol for removing wolves after livestock depredation

Courtesy: Montana FWP

State wildlife officials are considering loosening up the rules regarding killing wolves that prey on livestock. The proposed rules give more latitude to the federal agents hunting problem wolves.

The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks says wolves have killed 40 head of cattle so far this year. Those are confirmed kills, along with 22 sheep, a goat, and two dogs.

The way it works now, landowners can kill a wolf if they actively see the predator injuring or killing livestock. That’s happened four times this year.

If the landowner does not see the wolf, he or she needs to report the incident to the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division. That’s the federal agency specifically charged with handling conflicts between humans and wildlife.

But the federal government doesn’t manage Montana’s wolves, not anymore anyway. FWP does. So, the landowner contacts Wildlife Services about a depredation, an agent comes out and does an investigation—was this a wolf? How many wolves? Where are they? All that stuff. Then the Wildlife Services agent needs to contact FWP and explain the situation. FWP looks at their data, then gives the agent a prescription.

“Take one wolf, take two wolves, collar one, things like that,” said FWP Wildlife Bureau Chief Ken McDonald.

Sometimes that process can take a little while. Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz says he deals with a lot of wolf issues from his southwest Montana constituency. He says it is sometimes taking too long to remove these problem wolves, and they get away.

“There’s been some complexity and confusion in the past as to the relationship and the ability to communicate, I believe, between Wildlife Services and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks,” Schulz said.

The wolf population in Montana is growing, even with a couple years of hunting seasons. This new protocol being proposed removes the need for those wildlife services agents to get in touch with FWP for permission to hunt down and kill wolves.

“They would just be able to assess the situation and then implement control actions that they think is warranted based on the situation,” McDonald said.

He says it makes the process more efficient. Wildlife Services would still need to notify FWP after taking action. FWP has the authority to stop further killings at any time.

“One of the things everybody agrees on is the quicker you respond and the closer in location to the depredation you can respond the more likely you’re going to get the offending wolf or wolves,” McDonald said.

A law passed by the 2011 Legislature requires FWP give county governments and tribes the opportunity to comment on policy changes regarding large predators.

Commissioners and Tribal Governments may comment on this new depredation protocol until September 21st.

It is not eligible for public comment.

Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz is encouraged by the proposal.

“It doesn’t take away from the obligation of FWP and Wildlife Services to communicate. That has to happen…but it does simplify that one step of the extent of what that communication is,” Schulz said.

Not everyone is pleased, though. Some county commissioners have come forward saying they don’t think the proposal is aggressive enough. Some wildlife advocacy groups say it goes too far. Ken McDonald says at this point, he’s come to accept this kind of wide difference of opinion.

“Sure and again we’re in a learning stage with wolves and wolf management,” McDonald said. “We’ve had wolf management authority for a little over a year now. So this is a next step in the evolution of that wolf management.”

A step the department would examine a year after implementing.

Rick Hill releases wildlife policy stances, calls for new leadership at FWP

Rick Hill (Center) speaks with supporters at One Way Marine in Helena Monday

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Rick Hill has released the first of his policy positions for wildlife in the state. It calls for a new direction and new leadership at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“Many of you know that I wasn’t born and raised in Montana. I tell people I got here as soon as I could,” former Congressman Hill said at One Way Marine, a Helena business selling ATVs and boating supplies, on Monday.

“But one of the reasons I came to Montana was because of the outdoors,” Hill said. “It was hunting and fishing and the opportunities for hunting and fishing and camping.”

He was holding a press conference to announce his collection of wildlife policy proposals entitled, “Protecting Montana’s Outdoor Sporting Heritage”

It all starts with displeasure at the state agency that manages wildlife.

“In every corner of the state of Montana I hear one thing, and that’s frustration and anger with Fish, Wildlife and Parks,” Hill said.

Hill says FWP has lost the trust of the people of Montana and that relationships have broken down. More than anything else, Hill points to the state’s management of predators, the gray wolf especially.

FWP recently approved new rules for this year’s wolf season—which remove the statewide hunting limit on wolves and allow trapping for the first time.

Hill believes the hunting rules need to be liberalized even more, allowing individuals to hunt multiple wolves and lowering license fees.

He thinks many decisions regarding wolves have been made for political reasons and not based on sound science. He believes the number of wolves is much higher than the minimum 650 wolves estimated by FWP.

“And that the number is beyond the tipping point in some instances and that is going to dramatically impact the remaining number of wildlife that we have and so we believe that they’re not aggressive enough,” Hill said.

Hill also says he wants the agency to refocus on working for its customers—meaning hunters and fisherman. Hunting and fishing license fees and taxes on equipment provide most of the agency’s budget.

Hill’s proposal also suspends efforts to establish wild, free-roaming bison in the state. Hill says he would change the leadership at FWP, including new appointments on the FWP citizen commission—which sets the agency’s policies.

FWP Director, Joe Maurier was not available for comment today.

Hill is running against Democrat Attorney General Steve Bullock this November. Bullock campaign Spokesman Kevin O’Brien says Bullock is the only candidate who has fought in court for the rights of Montana sportsmen and personally explained to the Secretary of the Interior the importance of removing the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List.

“Seems that there are only two ways to become a wildlife biologist in Montana.” O’Brien said, “The first is you go to school and get a degree and the second is you get elected to public office. We know which direction Congressman Hill is taking. More than anything, especially with wolves, we need to get the politicians and their grandstanding out of the way and let the scientists do their jobs.”

Obrien says the Bullock campaign will focus on public access, public wildlife and professional management at FWP.

FWP Biologist Craig Jourdonnais Discusses Recent Bitterroot Valley Elk Count

It’s far too early to declare victory, but at least there’s some good news for the Bitterroot Valley’s East Fork elk herd. After years of precipitous decline, a recent population count found 56 calves per 100 cows. In this evening’s feature interview with Edward O’Brien, Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Craig Jourdonnais discusses the findings: