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Wildlife biologists from Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be in Missoula on Tuesday evening to collect public comments on their proposed management plan for the state's booming population of once-endangered wolves.

Open for discussion will be FWP's 288-page draft environmental impact statement analyzing five alternatives for managing wolves once the species is taken off the federal government's list of threatened and endangered species.

"The recovery of this species is as remarkable as it was swift," said FWP director Jeff Hagener. Montana had a population of about 180 wolves at the end of 2002.

Hagener said the state's preferred plan attempts to balance the needs of people, wolves and other wildlife. "It's a plan that will help to resolve conflicts, and one that will allow the wolf to find its place among Montana's other native wildlife," he said.

Tuesday's meeting begins with an open house from 6:30 to 7 p.m., followed by introductions and a short presentation. Then participants will be divided into small groups, where their comments can be collected. The evening will end with a question-and-answer session.

The Missoula meeting will convene at Meadow Hill Middle School, 4210 Reserve St. Similar sessions are planned on April 23 in Kalispell, at Flathead High School, and at Muldown Elementary in Whitefish.

Among the plan's highlights are:

  • Management actions would be based on protecting a minimum of 15 breeding pairs of wolves, enough to give managers greater latitude and confidence that the species won't return to the brink of extinction.
  • Wolves would be managed in a manner similar to mountain lions and black bears, based on habitat requirements and public acceptance.

    n Wolves could be hunted once the population reached a level considered biologically sustainable.

  • The state would attempt to provide wolf-travel links between Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Canada.
  • Landowners and stockgrowers would be allowed to defend their property from wolves attacking, killing or threatening to kill livestock. Herding and guarding animals would be considered livestock.
  • State and federal authorities would rapidly address wolf-livestock conflicts.
  • The state would develop, in cooperation with livestock producers and private groups, an entity to administer and fund a compensation program for damages caused by wolves. No state or federal money would be used to compensate ranchers for livestock losses.
  • Prey monitoring would be increased in areas inhabited by wolves to guarantee that big-game populations did not suffer dramatic declines.
  • Human safety would be protected by discouraging or removing wolves that became habituated to humans. Wolves could be killed in defense of human life.
  • Management of wolves would be integrated with that of deer, elk, moose and other wildlife.
  • Wolf management would be contingent upon adequate funding, estimated at $800,000 per year, and provided through a combination of state, federal and supplemental private sources.

The draft Montana wolf conservation and management plan EIS is available on FWP's Web site at www.fwp.state.mt.us. Public comment will be accepted through May 12. The statewide management plan is one of the requirements that must be met before federal officials will remove wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268 or at sdevlin@missoulian.com

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