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New laws require fewer animals, it says

BOZEMAN - A hunting group says new laws will force the state to revamp its wolf-management plan, but wildlife officials say the plan is already in compliance with the new legislation.

Those new laws require the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to manage wild animals to preserve huntable populations of big game, protect livestock and public safety.

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said the state's plan to allow about 15 wolf packs in Montana is too many.

FWP has been taking public comment on its draft environmental impact statement on wolf management after the animals are removed from the endangered species list. Marbut sent his organization's official stance to FWP chief Jeff Hagener on Friday.

FWP is proposing to manage wolves like mountain lions and black bears by allowing limited hunts and killing problem animals.

But Marbut wants to see a new alternative that puts the concerns of big-game hunters "front and center." Marbut said the state should cut the number of wolves to the bare minimum "that will get wolves delisted and keep them delisted."

FWP chief of staff Chris Smith said the agency's wildlife management, including its wolf plans, already are in compliance with measures passed this winter by the 2003 Legislature.

"I don't think the legislation that passed this session fundamentally changes law and policy" regarding wolf management, he said.

Supporters of wolf reintroduction and many environmental groups counter that the FWP proposal calls for too few wolf packs.

The Missoula-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies said last week that the FWP's wolf plans are "based on politics, not sound science."

The Alliance said Montana should have between 83 and 125 packs, which would mean 415 to 875 wolves.

The final plan is not likely to appease either staunch opponents or supporters of wolf reintroduction.

"We're getting a lot of comment from all over the globe and all over the philosophical map," Smith said.

The comment period on the draft environmental impact statement for wolf management closes Monday. Smith said once all the comments are read and analyzed, a final environmental impact statement probably will be written.

Federal regulators have said delisting cannot occur unless Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all write acceptable management plans.

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