HAMILTON - Wolves have had a devastating economic effect on the Bitterroot Valley, and it's time to take action, the Ravalli County commissioners decided Thursday.
The board unanimously approved moving forward to create a "living with wolves" policy for the county, and adopted a timeline for doing so.
"We're looking for more aggressive hunts that would result in tighter population control," said Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher.
Commissioners said that after a few months of information gathering, the county now has statistical proof of the negative economic effects of wolf depredation on Bitterroot elk herds.
"We have enough to initiate the process," said Commissioner Greg Chilcott.
At a Tuesday meeting, Kanenwisher proposed a timeline that included a three-week window for gathering additional input, proposals and information from groups and individuals. On Thursday, he said that timeline was too short.
"I very optimistically estimated a timeline," Kanenwisher said.
His new proposal, which the rest of the board agreed to, includes a six-week period starting Oct. 28 in which the board will:
- Further develop the economic effects of declining elk numbers.
- Solicit input from groups wanting to participate in creation of a large predator control position paper, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, and Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, among others.
- Solicit input from groups wanting to participate in creating the "living with wolves" policy.
The discussion period approved by the board includes three public meetings, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5, Jan. 3 and Jan. 16. Those public meetings would discuss input received and establish preliminary drafts of a policy. The last meeting would include adoption of a final draft policy that would be submitted to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"It's well laid out, well thought out," said Commissioner Suzy Foss.
Throughout the process, any proposals for management plans submitted by groups would be posted to the county website for public viewing, Kanenwisher said.
Kanenwisher said he's aiming for a policy that would enhance wolf, mountain lion and bear hunts, including higher quotas and different types of control such as trapping.
"(Trapping) is a prime target for something we'd advocate for," he said.
Kanenwisher added that commissioners don't want to do anything that would put wolves back on the endangered species list.
"We don't want it relisted. We wouldn't do anything that would endanger that status," he said.
Chilcott suggested working with other counties that are in Ravalli County's FWP wolf management unit - Granite, Beaverhead and parts of Missoula, Deer Lodge and Butte-Silver Bow.
"The more inclusion we have with other jurisdictions, the more depth of results we have," Chilcott said.
Foss added that as part of the coordination effort, working with other counties, states and regions will be inevitable.
Only five people attended Thursday's meeting. During public comment, Dennis Palmer, Keith Kubista and Brian Davis all applauded the commissioners' efforts.
Palmer said "evil stuff" like environmental regulations has decimated the economy in the Bitterroot.
"Those regulations have literally destroyed the economy here," he said.
Kubista, president of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said his organization is eager to give its input in the commissioners' process.
Burt Johnson, however, told the board he doesn't see the necessity of jumping into the policymaking process.
"We have a wolf hunt that is still going to go on," Johnson said. "I'm all for the local control of things, but unfortunately a lot of this, we have the feds hanging over our shoulder."
Reporter Whitney Bermes can be reached at 363-3300 or at email@example.com.