Despite increasing population, Feds want wolverine on endangered list

Photo courtesy Marie Hale/Flickr

Photo courtesy Marie Hale/Flickr

Montana wildlife officials last week expressed their formal opposition to a proposal from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the wolverine on the Endangered Species List.

The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks filed the letter by the end of the proposal’s public comment period last Monday.

USFWS says global climate change will significantly reduce wolverine habitat over the next century and protecting the species now will bolster the population for an expected future decline.

“We maintain that we’ve had an expanding population, even with climatic conditions that are maybe similar to what they’re predicting,” said Montana FWP Spokesman Ron Aasheim. “Our feeling is that the best available science doesn’t indicate that there’s a need to list the wolverine.”

“The wolverine is a bit unusual in the case that the current status is improving,” said USFWS Biologist Shawn Sartorius, who heads the agency’s wolverine research, but added ultimately, under the Endangered Species Act, it’s future threats that count.

The main impact Sartorius cites for the listing is the reduction of mountain snowpack levels. Wolverines use snow to build dens and raise their young. He said those impacts are being felt now.

USFWS says the reason wolverine populations continue to expand now is they are still filling the available habitat after being nearly wiped-out in the 20th Century “due to broad-scale predator trapping and poisoning programs.” Sartorius said listing the animal would give the agency more tools to help grow the population as much as possible.

“We have some potential to get wolverines into some of those places that they used to occur in to help expand their range before the full impact of climate change occurs,” Sartorius said.

Now that the public comment period is finished, USFWS will looking over their research and the comments to make their decision on listing the wolverine. Sartorius said a ruling will be made in February of 2014.

In the meantime, an injunction has been placed on trapping wolverines in Montana, which FWP also opposes. That prohibition would continue if the species is listed.

FWP allowed trappers to take five total wolverines per year. USFWS roughly estimates between 250 and 300 wolverines currently live in the lower 48 states.

FWP Commission approves Milk River ranch purchase, closes wolf hunting season near Yellowstone

State wildlife commissioners have approved the purchase of a nearly 8 million dollar ranch along the Milk River near the Canadian border

The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission voted 4 to 1 to buy the land along with the state land board and Montana Board of Regents.

Critics including neighboring landowners said the ranch’s hunting and fishing opportunities had been overstated, and that a second appraisal was needed to ensure the state was getting a fair deal. They urged commissioners to delay their Monday vote.

FWP Spokesman Ron Aasheim says other critics voiced concerns that the money spent on the ranch would be better spent elsewhere.

But Aasheim says the commission decided this purchase would be a prudent use of funds to change ranch into a wildlife management area.

“It blocks up a number of sections in that area and it provides 10 miles of the Milk River. It’s a good piece of property. That wasn’t the argument, there were just concerns with timing and where this fit with other priorities,” Aasheim said.

Several landowners who spoke Monday threatened to cut off public hunting access on their properties if the deal went through.

Aasheim says commissioners also voted to close down wolf hunting in some areas North of Yellowstone National Park, saying the body decided enough wolves had been taken there.

“There were some concerns about collared wolves from the park, that was probably the thing that started all this and they just agreed maybe we’ll be conservative this year,” Aasheim said.

Wolf hunting continues in other parts of the state with no kill limit. The state’s first wolf trapping season begins December 15th. Both seasons last into February.

So far about 90 wolves have been taken this hunting season.

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.