Montana’s wolf-hunting season ended a month ago, but wolf-debating season continues unabated.
A dozen wolf advocates gathered at Caras Park on Monday to plead for restored Endangered Species Act protection for the predator, while their colleagues in Helena and five other state capitals demanded the attention of their respective governors with civil disobedience efforts.
Across the state line, Idaho legislators last week approved a year-round wolf hunting season on private land in most of the Panhandle region, from the Canadian border to the Salmon River. The Idaho State Fish and Game Commission also OK’d moving the start of wolf trapping season from Nov. 15 to Oct. 10.
And a week earlier, Montana Fish and Wildlife commissioners allowed landowners to kill wolves threatening their livestock or property without a permit. Montana hunters and trappers killed 230 wolves in the just-ended 2013-14 season.
All this is taking place as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers delisting gray wolves throughout the Continental United States. Last week, 74 members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to drop that plan. They cited an independent review of the USFWS delisting plan that found its research “preliminary and currently not the best available science.”
“Their management plan is rife with errors,” said Missoula protest organizer Seth Hogue of the recently formed Wolf and Wildlife Group. “It’s just a good-ol’-boy group.”
Hogue said similar protests were set for capitals in Idaho, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with supporting rallies in four more states, Germany and South Africa. He argued that returning gray wolves from the brink of extinction to a viable population “should be a cause for celebration, not a reason to open hunting season again.”
From the Higgins Avenue Bridge, a passing man yelled, “I stand in protest to the wolves.”
In the park, Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance board member and folk singer Jack Gladstone said more people need to give their voices to the fate of wolves. In Blackfeet Indian tradition, Brave Dog Society members borrowed from wolf characteristics as defenders of the tribe’s territory and community.
“Wolf medicine was the most important medicine in the Plains Indian tradition, and I’m told in the Salish, too,” Gladstone said. “I listen to ranchers and farmers who’ve experienced losses from wolves. I think they should be compensated. But this is not just a question of private property as much as an asset of our heritage. Those elk we value did not create themselves over the millennia. Predators, primarily the wolf, were agents of their present form.”
Roughly 5,000 gray wolves inhabit the mountains of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, along with parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Token numbers have been found in Washington, Oregon and Utah. Montana alone has about 650 wolves, more than six times the federally required minimum population.
Gray wolves were placed under Endangered Species Act protection in 1975. Federal biologists reintroduced wolves to the mountains around Yellowstone National Park and in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in 1995 and 1996, while Canadian wolf populations naturally recolonized regions around Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountain Front.
In 2011, Congress required USFWS to delist the wolf in Montana and Idaho despite ongoing court challenges to the agency’s management plan.
The peer review challenge to USFWS’ Lower-48 delisting plan prompted the agency to extend its public comment period. It closes on Thursday. For more information, go online to this story on Missoulian.com.