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.