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Wolves in Missoula County

An anti-wolf advocate has asked the Missoula County commissioners to adopt a year-round wolf management plan.

An anti-wolf advocate has asked the Missoula County commissioners to adopt a year-round wolf management plan.

"I want them to open their (expletive) eyes," Toby Bridges said of his request that Missoula County do something similar to Ravalli County's draft wolf management policy. "If enough counties cry (expletive) on this, at least you're going to get their (expletive) attention. I'm going to keep throwing gallons of gasoline on this fire and it's going to get hot."

Bridges manages the website Lobowatch.com, which bills itself as "sportsmen against wolves." In a Feb. 20 email to the Missoula County commissioners, Bridges said the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is "not capable of putting together effective wolf control."

"(Y)ou must draft a plan of action," he wrote the commissioners. "And the citizens of this county and this state will ensure that Fish, Wildlife and Parks adhere to it ... or they can seek employment somewhere else."

Missoula County Commission Chairman Bill Carey said he does not believe the county has authority to manage wildlife or to tell a state agency how to do its business. He said he's seen the draft Ravalli County wolf plan and that "it doesn't seem to be on solid scientific ground."

Fellow Commissioner Michele Landquist said she has not heard from any Missoula County cattle or sheep producers wanting the county to address wolf management.

"As a sheep farmer, I'm aware of the problems wolves are causing our government trappers," Landquist said. "They're keeping them pretty darn busy. We probably have problems in Missoula County, but no one's brought them forward to us."

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Bridges also accused FWP of "working closely with radical environmental groups, the majority of which are extremely anti-hunting." He singled out the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which he said was a movement to "make it where you can't live on the land," and "reduce human use of the West."

Y2Y, as it's known, is an international consortium of environmental and conservation groups advocating for a unified wildlife management policy throughout the Rocky Mountains. In his letter to the commissioners, Bridges quoted a Y2Y hunting policy that "neither endorses nor condones the hunting of carnivore species such as grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and cougars." However, Y2Y's website actually reads the group "neither endorses nor condemns" hunting those species. (emphasis added).

FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said the state agency was listed as a partner of the Yukon to Yellowstone Conservation Initiative after it co-sponsored a school bookmark project. FWP asked Y2Y to remove the partner notice six weeks ago.

"We decided we did not want to get into a fight on someone else's terms," Aasheim said Wednesday. "We'd heard from a number of people who thought it was inappropriate, and we agreed."

As for working with county governments on wolf management, Aasheim said FWP welcomes the opinions.

"County government is a big part of Montana," he said. "They can certainly make recommendations about how they would prefer predators be managed."

Ravalli County commissioners have drafted a proposal that calls for removing the kill quota on wolves, allowing hunters and trappers to take up to five wolves a year, and allowing hunters to use their elk or deer tags to shoot a wolf in the general hunting season. It would also allow black bear hunters to use bait, which is currently illegal in Montana. The proposal was discussed in late January, but not acted upon.

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Meanwhile, Idaho Fish and Game officials announced on Wednesday that federal Wildlife Service agents killed 14 wolves from aircraft in the state's Lolo hunting zone during a three-day period in February. The Lolo Zone covers much of the Clearwater National Forest west of the Montana border between St. Regis and Hamilton.

Private Idaho hunters and trappers killed an additional 22 wolves, and other government hunters killed six more for a total of 42.

Idaho officials estimated 75 to 100 wolves use the Lolo Zone, with additional wolves traveling back and forth across the Montana border.

Montana hunters killed 39 wolves in the Bitterroot and Lower Clark Fork River hunting districts before their season ended on Feb. 15. The three districts had a combined quota of 76 wolves.

In the hunting district that includes Missoula County, hunters killed 17 of their allowed 20-wolf quota.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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