The window is closing on public comment for next season’s wolf hunt. Montana fish, wildlife and parks will take comment until Monday, with the FWP commission making its final decision in July. Proposed changes in the hunt include a longer season, and allowing for trapping of wolves. However, some people believe FWP is getting their numbers wrong and putting a population of an animal recently removed from the Endangered Species List at risk.
Montana has several Wolf Management Specialists covering different areas of the state for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Sections Coordinator Quentin Kujala said they work throughout the year looking for wolves, “through efforts that include radio collaring- trapping and radio collaring wolves… investigating, following up on public comments and observations, trail cameras, track observations,” Kujala said.
At the end of the year FWP comes up with a minimum population count based on the number of wolves confirmed by the biologists and field assistants.
Independent biologist Jay Mallonee said the way FWP collects the data is opportunistic, not scientific.
“It’s just a count. There’s no science behind it, they just get the data however they can get it,” Mallonee said methods he’d like to see include surveying an area using a grid system, and conducting transects surveys while flying to track radio collared wolves “where you take a bearing… and you just stay on that line, and on either side of the line, out to whatever distance you define, be it visually, or as far as the radio waves go, or however you want to define it, it doesn’t matter, just define it,” Mallonee said, “listen for things, so that you know, in this strip of sky that you’ve just defined, you either find something or you don’t.”
Kujala says FWP concentrates its efforts on areas where they’ve seen wolves, where they’ve received reports from the public of wolf sightings, where historically wolves live, and where reports of livestock killed by wolves have come in.
“A great big piece of landscape, that’s what Montana is. And so, the specialists need to be as efficient as they can, and again, that’s where the public comment really helps is just one of the things that helps them steer their focus to one place or the other,” Kujala said FWP also has statutory guidelines directing them to focus on areas where wolves and livestock both live, and state rules governing high priority areas.
F-W-P uses the minimum count along with other information in a model to come up with the number of wolves that can be harvested and still maintain a viable wolf population. Kujala says Montana also has two wolf-harvest seasons behind it now, and that information goes into the model, as well as other mortality and reproduction factors. He says F-W-P counted more wolves in the population in the years following both hunts.
“In a manner of speaking that confirms at a core scale what the model is telling us, because what the model is telling us is hey- for this species that is wolf, population can shoulder a lot of mortality and still experience some growth. Another way to say that is you have to apply a lot of mortality if you’re interested in reducing the population,” Kujala said.
Mallonee said scientists measure a population by looking at how many animals leave a population by immigrating, how many animals join the population by emigration, births, and deaths. He said the annual report from F-W-P includes other numbers within in the minimum count including how animals disperse, or are removed from the population through death, hunting, or wolf management control.
“The problem with that is, if you use their table of numbers, it’s impossible mathematically to go from year to year and reconcile those numbers. There’s always wolves that are missing, and the wolves that are missing are usually wolves that came in to the population, meaning immigration,” Mallonee said immigration is not measured or reported because it’s too difficult to track in the wild.
Kujala said FWP is following a specific methodology in wolf study and management that is continuing to evolve. He says statewide there is interest in reducing the wolf population, and there is also state interest, and federal mandate to maintain a viable population of wolves.
The proposed hunting season for wolves this year would run from September first through the end of February; trapping to start in mid-December. Snares would not be allowed.
The FWP Commission would still have the authority to close down a hunt, section by section, if it decides there is a threat to maintaining the population.
Public Comment on the proposal ends Monday the 25th, with the Commission scheduled to meet and make its decision on July 12th.