The liberalization of Montana’s 2012-13 wolf season took a step forward Thursday after the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission gave initial approval to a controversial plan that includes allowing wolf trapping.
More than 100 people crowded into the meeting at the FWP Montana Wild Center in Helena, with about 60 people voicing concerns, approval or pitching additions on the proposed plan, which along with trapping includes lengthening the wolf season, allowing the use of electronic calls, letting hunters or trappers take up to three wolves and eliminating quotas.
Commission members noted that these are only tentative proposals and there may be changes once they adopt the final regulations for the wolf season at their July 12 meeting in Helena. They added that the public will have until June 25 to submit additional comments, and that FWP will hold five meetings throughout Montana to discuss the proposal.
“It’s a good thing we don’t have to make a decision today,” Commissioner A.T. “Rusty” Stafne said after listening to a one-hour presentation and three more hours of comments. “We have 60 days to sort through everything you said today to determine where we want to go. This is not the end of it. I know myself, I haven’t decided.”
By instituting the changes, FWP officials said they hope to reduce the number of wolves in Montana from the known, minimal number of 653 to about 425.
“That’s our short-term, operational objective,” noted Quentin Kujala with the FWP wildlife bureau. “It gives folks, and targets, an anchor.”
The comments varied widely, but the majority of people who spoke favored the proposal by about a two-to-one ratio.
“We’re glad you’re getting more aggressive in controlling the wolf population. It’s very necessary,” said Keith Kubista, president of the Missoula-based Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. “Thanks for looking at what Idaho is doing; they have a history there that shows practical methods, means and techniques to accomplish a reduction in the wolf population.”
Barry Johnson of Stevensville added that trapping is an “integral part of Montana’s heritage.”
“This is a positive step in the effort to manage wolves,” he added.
But others said the tentative proposals are a dramatic departure from current wolf management strategies and urged the commission to move slowly. They also called the proposals unethical, adding that trapping is inhumane.
“This is not the time for a radical departure of the integral approach,” said Jonathan Matthews with the Montana chapter of the Sierra Club. “You’re abandoning fair chase and ... we are very concerned about the more aggressive approach and departure from fair hunting principles. Trapping is cruel, inhumane and an indiscriminate number of animals are maimed and killed.”
Mike Leahy with Defenders of Wildlife added that if all the proposed changes are adopted, FWP won’t be able to tell what management tool worked and what didn’t.
“You’re talking about five significant changes … and it will be impossible to gauge the impact of any one change,” Leahy said. “I urge you to scale back and change the overall goal from reducing the population to managing the current population.”
Marc Cooke with the Stevensville-based Wolves in the Rockies group added that trapping recently took a hit after a photograph went viral of a live wolf in a trap surrounded by bloody snow and a smiling trapper showing off his trophy. The photograph was taken in Idaho.
“That image was sent worldwide and raised a bunch of heck,” Cooke said. “As politically expedient and satisfying as it may appear on the surface, can Montana afford to be viewed by the rest of the U.S. as a state that condones the trapping (and) suffering of wolves?”
Yet trapping advocates said the proposal is a move in the right direction and that with proper education and certification, trappers can be a valuable tool in the wolf-management effort. They also want the commission to consider allowing snares along with traps, and eliminating a provision that calls for checking traps every 48 hours.
“Allowing trappers the opportunity to take more than one wolf per season is good,” said Toby Walrath, a member of the Montana Trappers Association. “We can help balance predators and prey and will offer educational classes demonstrating the types of traps that are available.”
Vito Quatraro with the Montana Sportsmen Alliance said he likes the proposal for multiple tags per person, but asked the commission to extend the wolf hunting season until March 15 instead of the current proposal that ends it on Feb. 28. He also wants the trapping season to run from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, instead of starting on Dec. 15.
In addition, Quatraro said the Bozeman-based group is urging the commission to adopt a wolf quota instead of leaving the matter open. FWP has said it doesn’t want a quota, adding that wolf kills must be reported within 24 hours and they can close hunting and trapping if too many wolves are being taken from one area. Having a general season instead of using quotas in individual wolf management units is expected to make it easier for people to take a wolf.
Harvest quotas will be in place in wolf management units near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks to address concerns over potentially high harvests near their boundaries.
“It’s not so much so that you can reach it, but without one we worry that you open the door for a lawsuit by people who say you’re in violation of the wolf plan,” Quatraro said, adding that it’s imperative for the commission to take action. “If you do not act now, you’re turning over management and control of wolves to the legislature and that’s a dangerous precedent.”
He added that while some people believe FWP needs the legislature to make statutory changes to allow for multiple tags per person, allowing trapping and using electronic calls, in his view the commission already has the ability to do that.
“You have control and the authority,” Quatraro said. “I don’t want to see that placed with the legislature.”
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com
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