HAMILTON - Ravalli County commissioners released the first draft of their predator control policy on Tuesday, one that calls for no quota, longer hunting seasons and trapping for wolves in the Bitterroot Valley.

Commission Chairman Matt Kanenwisher emphasized that the purpose of the policy is to bring a proposal on predator management policies to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It is to "give people of Ravalli County a voice," he said.

"Ravalli County has never asserted that the county has the ability to manage wolves," Kanenwisher said. "We don't have the authority to do that."

Commissioner Greg Chilcott said the policy is often mischaracterized.

"This policy is not anti-wolf," Chilcott said. "This policy should be recognized as advocacy for humans, for ungulate populations and for livestock."

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For wolf hunting in the Bitterroot, the policy suggests no quota, a general season running Aug. 30-June 30, trapping permitted Nov. 15-March 15, snaring, a non-resident fee of $31.75, over-the-counter tags available at any time, electronic calls, a deer or elk tag can be used on a wolf during general season, five tags per year including trapping, no hunter orange requirement and no baiting for wolves. However, wolves may be taken incidentally over a bear bait.

For mountain lion hunting, the policy suggests a general season also from Aug. 30 to June 30, a harvest quota of 35 per hunting district of either sex, over-the-counter tags available anytime, deer or elk tags can be used for lions during general season, no kill fees, no hunter orange requirement and a non-resident tag price of $31.75.

For bear hunting, the policy suggests season dates of Aug. 30-Nov. 27 and April 15-June 30, no bear test requirement, no hunter orange requirement, over-the-counter tags available anytime, two baiting sites per hunter, non-resident tag fee of $31.75, and a deer or elk tag can be used to tag a bear during general season.

The draft policy also outlines commissioners' findings on effects to public health and safety, the culture of hunting in the Bitterroot, the hunting industry specifically in the south valley and on ungulate mortality.

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While gathering public comment, commissioners heard concerns from residents who oppose increased wolf hunting. However, the draft said, their reasons aren't enough to keep the county from moving forward with this policy.

"While some citizens within Ravalli County highly prize the existence of the wolf, there is no acceptable argument that this admiration of the wolf which simply values the sighting of this species supersedes or trumps the long heritage of hunting and family based activity within the Bitterroot," the draft reads.

Now that the draft is released, a two-week public comment period will follow. The draft will be posted on the county's website. There are also hard copies available in the commissioners' office.

Following the comment period, commissioners will hold a public hearing to adopt the policy. After adopted, commissioners will ask FWP to meet with them so they can discuss their policies.

Keith Kubista, president of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, praised the draft. The emphasis on the custom and culture of hunting in the Bitterroot is a critical element, he said.

"I think you're on the right track," Kubista said. "Here in the Bitterroot, we've experienced severe declines in calf-cow ratios as well as elk populations in general."

But Marc Cooke from National Wolf Watch Coaltion, a wolf advocacy group, was none too pleased. He said the commissioners have no clear grasp on wolf data in the valley and continue to waste valuable taxpayer money and resources on this project. Opposing views are not welcomed by this commission, he claimed, and he felt he was denied his right to participate.

"I ask the policy draft be voided and the process started over," Cooke said to commissioners.

Kanenwisher countered Cooke, saying the commissioners have included all members of the public wanting to participate from the beginning.

"That accusation is outrageous," Kanenwisher said. "We did have a public process and we are continuing to have a public process."

Commissioners started this process in June when they began soliciting first-person accounts of wolves from valley residents. In October, the board unanimously decided to create a "living with wolves" policy.

Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or whitney.bermes@ravallirepublic.com.

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