Montana’s wolf rifle hunting season could last six and a half months, and up to five wolves could be taken by a hunter or trapper under a proposal to come before the state Fish, Wildlife and Commission next week.
The commission will consider whether to lengthen the amount of time wolves could be hunted with rifles from Sept. 15 to March 31. Last year, the wolf hunting season started Oct. 15, with the regular big game rifle season, and ended Feb. 15. Hunters harvested 128 wolves during the 2012/2013 season and trappers took 97 for a total of 225.
This year, however, the start of the rifle hunting season would coincide with the black bear and backcountry big-game rifle seasons. The trapping season, which ran from Dec. 15 through Feb. 28 in 2012 and 2013, would remain the same this season under the proposal.
George Pauley, FWP Wildlife Management Chief, said the reasons for the proposed changes are twofold.
“We’re just looking for opportunities to hunt wolves … and it’s an attempt to reduce the population,” Pauley said. “We’ve always had a philosophy of incrementally increasing harvest rates and opportunities.”
A person who is both hunting and trapping wouldn’t be allowed to take any more than five wolves.
In documents supporting the proposed changes, FWP notes that while Montana doesn’t have an overall population objective for wolves, “it is clear that a more aggressive wolf hunting season will not harm wolf populations or genetic diversity.”
FWP also notes that it is apparent that additional harvest will be required to reduce wolf abundance.
“Added harvest should provide additional relief to livestock producers and in some instances, relief to big game populations that are performing poorly, due in part, to the effects of wolf predation,” FWP officials stated, adding that other seasons for elk, deer, bear and lion are managed in similar fashions.
Recovery of gray wolf populations has been ongoing since the late 1980s after they were extirpated from their traditional ranges by trapping, poisoning and shooting them as nuisances and predators. In Montana, they were removed, then returned numerous times to the list of animals protected under the federal Endangered Species Act until, in April 2011, an act of congress delisted them.
At the end of 2012, the known minimum wolf population in Montana was 625 wolves in 147 packs. The statewide population has trended upward since recovery efforts began and FWP believes it’s stabilizing, with the minimum count dropping this year from a high of 653 known wolves in 2011.
“The rate of wolf population growth in Montana appears to be slowing down as the highest quality habitats with the lower potential for conflicts are occupied,” FWP stated in documents.
Pauley said that House Bill 73, which was passed early in the legislative session, allows the commission to decide how many wolves a hunter or trapper can harvest. The bill also allows the use of electronic calling devices, removes a requirement to wear hunter orange outside the general deer and elk season and prohibits FWP from banning wolf hunts in areas around national parks.
Under the proposal, the wolf archery season will open on Sept 7 and run through Sept 14.
Another proposed change includes allowing hunters to take wolves over bait placed to trap wolves during the trapping season.
“The change is proposed to allow trappers to harvest wolves spotted on their trap line, without the concern regarding the presence of bait at some sets,” FWP notes in documents.
The requirement to immediately kill trapped wolves also would be modified under the proposal, as part of a possibility that trappers would work with FWP to capture and collar wolves.
FWP will continue to maintain the general season without a statewide quota under the proposal. However, a seven-wolf quota would be set in an expanded Wolf Management Unit 316, just north of Yellowstone National Park, and the quota would remain at two wolves in WMU 110 abutting Glacier National Park.
The state agency also is asking the commission to allow FWP to initiate emergency season closures at any time, especially if harvest levels seem excessive.
“Any such closure would necessarily include an appropriate timeline and public notice, and that may include press releases and posted signs,” according to FWP.
Like last year, anyone trapping will have to take a course put on by FWP. During 2012, 2,414 trappers completed the Montana Wolf Trapper Education Course.
The FWP Commission meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, May 9, at the Montana Wild Center, 2668 Broadwater Ave., next to Spring Meadow Lake State Park off Highway 12 West in Helena. How-ever, discussion on the wolf season proposals is the last agenda item, so that probably will be part of the afternoon session.