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 mulls more aggressive wolf hunting season

State wildlife officials have given initial approval to new, more aggressive wolf hunting rules for this year’s hunting season. The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission is accepting public comment before taking a final vote on the proposal.

The new rules extend the wolf hunting season, allows more wolves to be taken by individuals and allows trappers to use bait. The proposed rules are drawing fresh criticism from wolf advocates.

Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says hunters and trappers together did take more wolves this last hunting season than the year before—a total of 225 wolves killed. But he says FWP still thinks the species can handle a more aggressive hunt.

“We’ve still got more wolves than what we would consider in balance with the rest of the wildlife out there and with landowner tolerance. So we’re still thinking we need to reduce numbers below where they are,” Aasheim said.

The rules adopted by the FWP Commission extend the wolf hunting season by a month–out to six and a half months. Individuals would be able to take up to five wolves—up from three last hunting season, through any combination of hunting or trapping.

Some conservation organizations are criticizing the new plan as going too far. Greater Yellowstone Coalition Wildlife Program Manager Chris Colligan says the GYC has supported overall Montana wolf hunting rules in the past as being a preferred model compared with Idaho and Wyoming rules. He says his organization does not feel that way about these new guidelines. Colligan says the national public analyzes wolf management in the West with a high level of scrutiny.

“And with all of the attention last year on wolf management we feel this is going to give Montana a black eye, especially with the non-hunting public,” Colligan said.

Yellowstone National Park officials also would like FWP to change the overall wolf quota in the hunting district just outside the park. That total proposed quota is seven wolves right now, Yellowstone would like that lowered due the interest of tourists in more wolves and some recent high-profile wolf killings outside the park.

FWP says they will take that into consideration.

Other groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation praise the new proposed rules. Communications Director Mark Holyoak says the rules take into account the wishes of landowners and sportsmen.

“There is a proper place for wolves, just as there is for ungulates and other predators but we need to remember that we as humans live on the same landscape as well,” Holyoak said.

“Landowners in Montana have been great about accommodating wildlife and some of the impacts and it’s our job to do what we can to mitigate those problems,” Aasheim said.

The Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission will take a final vote on the new wolf season rules during their meeting in July.

FWP predicts there were more than 600 Wolves living in the state as of the end of last year.

See the new proposed wolf hunting rules here.

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.

Sally Mauk talks with state wildlife official Ron Aasheim about a recent incident of wolf poisoning

Federal and state officials are investigating the recent deaths of four wolves and six eagles in the Bob Marshall wilderness area. Lab tests confirm they were poisoned. In this feature interview, News Director Sally Mauk talks with state Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim about the poisoning, and the impact it has on the ongoing controversy over wolf management…

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.