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.