FWP Commission urging folks to consider all predators, not just wolves

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to end the state’s wolf hunt.

The Court says Congress had the right to strip endangered species act protections from the animals last Spring. Senator Jon Tester and Idaho Republican Representative Mike Simpson added the wolf removal as an earmark on a federal budget bill.

Conservation Advocate Michael Robinson works with the Center for Biologic Diversity, of the groups filing the lawsuit. He says today’s ruling undermines the endangered species act and sets a harmful precedent.

“Wolves have benefited the ecosystems as scientists have found and that is a large part of the point of the endangered species act, not just to conserve the animals and plants on the verge of extinction but the ecosystems on which they depend,” he said.

Robinson says the group hasn’t yet decided if they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The dismissal concludes another chapter in the long divisive saga over managing wolves in the Rockies. Wolves pretty much take the spotlight when it comes to predators in Montana. Even as state wildlife officials plan the next wolf hunt–they are trying to promote a more holistic approach to predator management.

When the Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission holds meetings about wolves, the commission room packs with people on both sides of the issue. Hunters and ranchers complain of the wolves killing livestock and decimating elk populations. Wolf advocates argue the wolves still haven’t recovered enough to ensure genetic health.

FWP Commission Chair Bob Ream says people are missing the wider picture.

“We need to tamp down the hysteria over wolves right now….We do have a lot of different prey species in Montana and a lot of different predator species,” he said.

He says Montana has one of the most complex predator-prey networks in the country. Bears, mountain lions, wolves–he says they all affect the overall ecosystem.

For example, a lot of concern over wolves killing elk comes from the West Fork of the Bitterroot. Ream says FWP and University of Montana researchers conducted a study there last year.They put radio tags on 66 elk calves in the spring.

“And it turned out over the Summer months, during the first month, four of the calves were killed by black bears and over the remainder of the Summer seven were killed by mountain lions and only one by wolves.”

The commission will be setting new hunting rules for wolves, bears, and mountain lions in the coming months. Fish Wildlife and Parks Spokesman Ron Aasheim says when they set the seasons for each individual species–they will be taking into account the collective impacts of all predators.

“Their ranges, what we know about their depredation or their prey and their impacts on that prey,” Aasheim said.

Commissioners will be considering rules for the wolf hunting season first—in May. Bears and mountain lions will come up later in the year.

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