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.

Montana begins first wolf trapping season this weekend

Courtesy Montana FWP

Courtesy Montana FWP

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.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioner Ron Moody talks about extending the wolf hunting season

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners recently proposed extending the wolf hunting season in the West Fork of the Bitterroots to April 1st, to try and fill the 18-wolf quota in that area. Hunters have so far only taken 4 wolves there. Commissioner Ron Moody of Lewistown, a lifelong hunter, voted against the extension because he believes it violates the sportsmens’ code of ethics, and will give hunters a black eye with the non-hunting public. In this feature interview, he talks with News Director Sally Mauk about his objections.