Montana’s wildlife commission approved this year’s hunting quota of 220 wolves as expected on Thursday, but also added quota limits for a hunting district adjacent to Yellowstone National Park after learning wolves were being drawn to the area due to the park’s practice of depositing bison, elk and other carcasses near Mammoth.

Bob Ream, chairman of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, said he only heard of the carcass dumping ground in recent days, and he believes it’s drawing wolves and grizzly bears into the area, causing conflicts with hunters.

“I will follow up, and maybe the director can as well, with the park service to try to get them to move that dumping ground elsewhere,” Ream said. “They asked us to go easy on wolves and in turn we can ask them for better disposal of carcasses. It’s an attractive nuisance.”

He said the dumping ground is less than a mile from the park’s northern boundary near the Yellowstone River.

Park spokesman Al Nash said the practice of dumping large animal carcasses near Mammoth and other areas has taken place for decades. Most of the animals died either from natural causes or were hit by vehicles, and park employees remove them from roadsides, trails and campgrounds as a safety precaution.

Nash said that this year, 17 carcasses were dumped at the Mammoth site.

“It’s not an area that’s open to the public and we specifically don’t discuss the locations,” he said. “My understanding of the use of the Mammoth area location is that it’s more likely to see its greatest use in the wintertime, not spring, summer or fall.”

Ream said that during the initial 2009 hunting season, four members of the closely watched Cottonwood Pack, which crossed into Montana from Yellowstone, were killed and the state received numerous complaint letters. So while the wolf hunting district 390 has a quota of 18 this year, they had put in a subquota of only three wolves in elk hunting district 316. In light of the carcass dumping grounds, that subquota was extended west Thursday into elk hunting district 313 to further limit the harvest there.

“The piles are an attractant for wolves, and it did pull the Eight Mile pack down to the park boundary,” Ream said. “So now the sub-quota for 313 and 316 combined is three wolves.”

Montana currently is home to at least 556 wolves, and scientific models show that the quota of 220 would reduce the population by anywhere from 7 to 25 percent, or 526 to 425 wolves. These projections include the loss of wolves due to livestock depredation, accidents and natural causes, as well as births, immigration and emigration of animals.

Without a wolf hunt this year, the population is predicted to increase to 632 to 647 wolves, according to Ken McDonald, FWP wildlife division chief.

The initial wolf hunt in 2009 had a quota of 75 animals, but was stopped before the season was scheduled to end after 72 wolves were removed by hunters; the commission didn’t want to exceed the quota. Last year’s quota was 186 wolves across 13 wolf management units, but that was blocked by a federal court judge.

McDonald noted that the 220 quota will be revisited after the hunting season ends and the implications are clearer.

“If we continued this level of harvest year after year it probably would be unsustainable,” McDonald said. “But we’re promoting it as a single-year harvest and structure to get management under control. Then we will be back next year with a new proposal.”

This year, the commission approved 14 wolf management units with specific quotas, and included the subquotas in three areas as part of an attempt to limit harvest during early season backcountry hunts.

“We learned from the 2009 hunt that there was a need to be more surgical in directing the wolf harvest toward areas where elk, deer and livestock depredations are an issue,” McDonald said. “So we made adjustments and developed smaller sized wolf management units each with their own quota.”

The backcountry wolf hunting seasons correspond to Montana’s early backcountry big game hunting season, which runs Sept. 3-14 for archery and Sept. 15 through Nov. 27 for rifle hunting; and the big game archery and general rifle seasons set for Sept. 3 through Oct. 16 and Oct. 22 through Nov. 27 respectively. However, the wolf hunting season in some areas could run through Dec. 31 if quotas are not reached.

Neither aerial hunting nor trapping will be allowed this year.

Hunting licenses cost $19 for residents and $350 for nonresidents, and sales are expected to begin in August. Harvests must be reported within 12 hours and the cape and skull presented to FWP within 10 days. Licenses become valid five days after purchases, as an attempt to prohibit people from shooting a wolf then buying the license. Electronic calls are not allowed.

McDonald said they received 736 comments on the wolf season proposal, and they were split fairly evenly between people who thought the quota was too high and those who thought it wasn’t enough.

Both he and the commission agreed that either side could be correct, but they’re trying to make decisions based on scientific models combined with what they’re seeing on the ground since wolves were reintroduced beginning in 1994.

“We’ll learn more this season and we’ll apply what we learn to ensure that Montana maintains a balance among all wildlife, their habitats and the people who live, work, and recreate here,” McDonald said.

Wolves also have naturally migrated south from Canada, and currently about 1,650 reside in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and Utah. A congressional measure passed this spring removed gray wolves from the list of endangered species in Montana, Idaho, and parts Oregon, Washington and Utah, but was challenged in federal district court in Missoula in May. A final court ruling hasn’t been issued.

Wolves also will be hunted this year in Idaho, but officials aren’t instituting quotas or harvest targets in most of the state. Wolves remain under federal protection in Wyoming.

In a press release, Montana’s senators praised the commission’s adoption of the hunting season and quotas.

“This is a step in the right direction in restoring Montana’s responsible management of wolves in our state,” Sen. Max Baucus said. “We fought hard to rightly return wolves in Montana to Montana management and I’m pleased to see the process moving forward for a wolf hunt in the fall.”

Sen. Jon Tester added that he’s also pleased with Thursday’s hunting decision.

“A science-based wolf hunt is part of our responsible plan that’s best for Montana’s sportsmen, ranchers and for Montana’s wolf population in the long run,” Tester said.

Reporter Eve Byron:

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