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.