Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposes to extend the wolf hunting and trapping seasons in northwestern Montana.
The agency is currently setting hunting seasons for the 2020-2021 biennium. Its Region One office, which covers Lincoln, Flathead, Sanders and Lake Counties, announced the proposals in a press release Wednesday. If approved by the rule-making Fish and Wildlife Commission, they would:
- Extend the general hunting season from Sept. 15-March 15 to Aug. 15-March 31.
- Extend the trapping season’s end date from Feb. 28 to March 15.
- Increase the individual limit from five wolves per person to 10.
Outside Region One, Fish, Wildlife and Parks also aims to maintain the quotas in Wolf Management Units 313 and 316, just north of Yellowstone National Park, at two each. An earlier version of their proposal would have dropped that to one each.
During a public-comment period on the hunting season that ran from Dec. 5 to Jan. 27, “we heard from a substantial number of people attending the public meetings throughout northwest Montana who requested additional opportunity for wolves,” said Neil Anderson, the agency’s regional wildlife manager, in a statement.
The minimum count of wolves in Montana has increased from less than 100 in 1998 to over 600 in 2017, according to FWP. Models indicate the total population may have reached 800 or higher in 2018. Montana’s wolves were removed from Endangered Species Act protections and placed under state management in 2011. Hunters and trappers harvested 254 wolves statewide in 2017.
“We would be very supportive of those expanded seasons and larger amount of take,” said Blake Henning, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s chief conservation officer. He said that the hunting and conservation group’s members “would support these additional opportunities, and we want to support our members.”
Wolf management has long been a controversial topic in Montana, with hunters calling for more hunting opportunities out of concern for deer and elk numbers, and some environmental groups opposing these measures and calling on the state to protect wolves and their place in the ecosystem.
“The Kalispell area ... every year, is hammered. They kill a ton of wolves up that way,” said Marc Cooke, president of Stevensville-based group Wolves of the Rockies. In 2017, FWP recorded 84 wolves killed in Region One. “There are so many positives that wolves bring to the table ... that the only thing I can say is that the department is mismanaging an asset that is on the ground 24/7 in the state.”
Sarah McMillan, conservation director at WildEarth Guardians’ Missoula office, wrote in an emailed statement that “Guardians opposes the hunting of wolves and all trapping,” and predicted that “Increasing the general season by six weeks and the trapping season by two weeks will result in more inhumane and pointless killing of wolves.”
The Fish and Wildlife Commission will hear a presentation on the rules at its February 13 meeting in Helena, which will be live-streamed to all regional Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices. The agency plans to recommend extending the comment period for these rules through March 16, and for the commission to hold a vote on adoption at its June meeting. For the meeting agenda and draft proposal, visit fwp.mt.gov and under “Quick Links” click “Commission.”