FWP Commission to take final vote on 2012-2013 wolf hunt, including trapping

State Wildlife officials are voting tomorrow on new rules for this year’s wolf hunt.

The new season proposal attempts to greatly increase the number of wolves harvested.

The plan removes the statewide quota on wolf kills, extends the season, and most controversially—allows wolf trapping.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce speaks with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim about the rationale behind the new proposal.

FWP hears from county commissioners unhappy about wolf hunt

FWP Commissioners considering new wolf hunting restrictions Wednesday

County Commissioners from around Montana tell wildlife management officials more needs to be done to bring down the state’s rising wolf population.

They say wolves continue depleting elk populations and hurting livestock in their regions.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioners are looking to widen the scope of the state’s wolf hunt.

“We are going to be much more aggressive in our proposals this next season,” said FWP Director Joe Maurier during a packed FWP Commission meeting on Wednesday.

County Commissioners were filling the chairs of the commission room. There were others present via satellite links to other cities and towns. And every one who got up to speak wants more wolves killed.

“One thing we’re happy about is we got the first wolf in the wolf hunt and there was celebration in downtown Columbus on that one,” said Stillwater County Commissioner Maureen Davey. She was not happy about much else. “We’re disappointed the maximum quota was not met. We really counted on that and we hope that that will happen next year.”

Hunters killed 166 wolves this year out of the quota of 220, even with an extended season. Fish Wildlife and Parks had hoped to cut the wolf population 25 percent this year. Instead, latest figures show the population actually rose 15 percent. Some counties like Ravalli County are talking about offering bounties for wolf kills. That is legal as long as the animals are killed legally.

Jefferson County Commissioner Leonard Wortman joined several commissioners in calling FWP’s wolf numbers into question.

“I think a lot of people think there’s a lot more wolves out there that haven’t been counted,” he said.

Fish Wildlife and Parks Commissioner Ron Moody agrees maybe that is something the department should look into.

“We need to do our best to accurately count wolves. You can’t manage what you can’t measure and this is a chronic problem with the predator species because predators are by their job title elusive and scarce animals to run down and count,” Moody said.

FWP officials are mulling over ways to increase wolf kills next season. Wildlife Chief Ken McDonald mentions a general season that lasts through February with no quotas.

“In terms of other tools, trapping comes up we’re looking at trapping,” McDonald said.

Also allowing hunters to take more than one wolf or use electronic calls. A lot of those changes would need to be approved by the 2013 Legislature. The FWP Commission will consider formal proposals on these ideas in May.

Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission denies extending wolf hunt in Bitterroot Valley

Courtesy: Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commissioners have unanimously voted not to extend the wolf hunting season in the Bitterroot Valley.

An already extended statewide wolf hunt came to a close this week. 166 wolves were killed—75 percent of the 220 wolf quota.

Those in favor of the longer Bitterroot hunt say they need more time to bring their region closer to the quota. But commissioners have instead opted to regroup for next year’s hunt.

Montana Outfitters and Guides Association Executive Director Mac Minard says some Bitterroot hunters and ranchers remain clear with Fish Wildlife and Parks on their opinion of the wolf hunt.

“There were quite a few people that want this thing extended,” Minard said about public comment at Thursday’s meeting.

The FWP Commission was considering extending the hunt in the Bitterroot Valley’s District 250. Hunters believe wolves are having too big of an impact on the elk population there. FWP is in the process of studying the reasons for the elk decline.

Biologists predict about 36 wolves live in that area. The district’s quota this year was for half of that population—18 wolves. Hunters only killed 8 in district 250.

“Given how the hunt has gone in 250, I’m not sure it would make much of a difference in the next month whether we take some extra wolves or not,” said FWP Director Joe Maurier.

Allowing an extended season for the Bitterroot wolf hunt would have been inconsistent with how FWP normally sets seasons. They say a better approach will be to focus on next season; focus on how to get wolf harvest closer to the quota. Mac Minard with Montana Outfitters and Guides agrees with that approach because, as he says, wolves are hard to kill.

“It isn’t a species that’s gonna behave like anything else we’ve hunted here before,” he said. “These animals become adapted very quickly to hunting pressure.”

FWP Commissioner Colton says the Department needs to look at allowing other methods for taking wolves.

“This year it was very simple, you can shoot it with a bow, you can shoot it with a rifle. You know, you had to wear your orange. So there were some impediments arguably for the wolf hunters,” he said.

He says the state may look into allowing electronic wolf calls next season, perhaps some kind of baiting. Maybe hunters would be allowed to buy more than one license. There was talk of lowering the price of wolf licenses for non-residents too. These options could help bring wolf numbers down to where FWP wants them.

Commissioner Colton also says hunters are still learning about the animals.

“I can tell you those guys that were really committed to going out and getting a wolf–they got a wolf. It’s not easy,” he said.

Most of the new wolf hunting options being considered by the commission require legislative approval. FWP Director Maurier says he wants to bring a new wolf management plan to the 2013 state legislature in its first week.