On the day of Montana's first big-game wolf hunt, the question remains: What does a hunter ethically do with a wolf?
Taxidermists say wolf pelts aren't top grade at this time of year, compared to their full winter coats. Most of the recipes for cooking wolves on the Internet come from the online fantasy game "World of Warcraft" (there was one video of "Carpaccio of salmon and wolf with tender herbs," but it turned out to be wolf fish).
Wolf chili is also common, but that's a commercial brand, not an ingredient. M.F.K. Fisher wrote a great cookbook titled "How to Cook a Wolf," but it's mainly metaphorical - when the wolf is at the door, cook the wolf.
A successful Montana wolf hunter - the season begins Tuesday in several backcountry areas - must do several things with his or her kill. The wolf must be properly tagged with a validated license as soon as it's killed. The hunter must report the kill to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department within 12 hours, noting the sex of the animal and location of the hunt. The hunter must also personally present the hide and skull to an FWP warden within 10 days of the kill for inspection and hide-tagging.
FWP spokesman Tom Palmer said the 12-hour call-in requirement is not as difficult as it sounds. Although the backcountry hunting districts typically require a full-day horse ride just to reach the boundary, communication is possible.
"A lot of the outfitters have satellite phones, and most hunters have cell phones," Palmer said. "They can get up on a ridge and get some kind of reception. More times than not, they'll be able to get word out in some shape or form."
In addition, a half-dozen FWP wardens are scheduled to be patrolling the Bob Marshall Wilderness during the early season hunt. Given that backcountry conditions could still make it impossible to meet the 12-hour requirement, Palmer said wardens will consider the effort a hunter attempted to make the report.
Montana FWP commissioners have declared gray wolves a "species in need of management" in their decision to allow big-game hunting of the animals. Their rationale was based largely on evidence that wolf packs are cutting into elk and deer numbers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's conclusion that Montana has more than enough wolves and breeding pairs to sustain a viable population.
But the commissioners did not designate wolves as "suitable for food" as other big game are. That means hunters are not legally obligated to keep the carcass, other than the pelt and skull. It's illegal to waste any parts of other game animals that are fit for human consumption.
Some Montana hunters mainly seek wild meat to eat. Some seek trophy animals to display or record. Many fall somewhere in between, which puts wolf hunting in a gray area. If it's not fit to eat and makes an uncertain trophy, why hunt it?
"We think the states have a toolbox for fish and wildlife management, and it's their call which tools they choose to use," said Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula. "Our national membership and our membership in Montana generally supports wildlife and wildlife management. We've always accepted and supported the notion that wolves demand a fairly intense level of management, and in some instances that means killing those wolves."
That said, France acknowledged his group is opposed to the current removal of wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protection. But he said that's because Wyoming has not yet produced an adequate wolf management plan, while Montana and Idaho have. Wolves range across all three states.
National hunting writer and ethicist Jim Posewitz offered a broader answer. In the United States, wildlife belongs not to the government, but the people. And it is the people's responsibility to ensure all those species survive and thrive to the best of our management ability.
"I think wildlife management works," Posewitz said. "It would be pretty hard to argue it didn't, when you took an entire state that was basically a pile of bones 100 years ago, and now we have deer in our cities, bears in our orchards and goose dung in every golf shoe. That's pretty good evidence that wildlife management can be effective."
Wolves, Posewitz said, are the ultimate example of that management success. We've brought back not only the popular prey species, but the predators that feed on them as well.
"Wolves push at borders of toleration on a changed landscape," he said. "We've definitely brought them back to a place they've never been before. We have created lots of values with the prey base out there. Now we must balance those things with all the things we have yet to learn about wolves."
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.