More than 6,500 people weighed in on proposed changes to Montana’s 2012/2013 wolf hunting and trapping seasons, and chances are even more comments will be made during a July 12 Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting.
Ron Aasheim, FWP spokesman, said they’re still going through what could be a record number of comments received by the state agency, with most of them focusing on the proposal to allow trapping of wolves as well as increasing the bag limit to three wolves per person per season.
“The comments came from in state, out of state and out of the country,” Aasheim said. “We got form letters, post cards, Survey Monkey (an online comment mechanism) emails and phone calls.
“I think what we are seeing is mainly a response to the suggestion that we trap wolves. We knew there would be lots of interest in it, so it wasn’t unexpected that there would be significant response and if 6,500 isn’t a record, it’s darn close to one.”
He noted that they’ll probably hear more from the public at Thursday’s FWP Commission meeting, since some
modifications have been made to the initial proposal. The commission is expected to make a final decision on the wolf hunting and trapping season at the meeting.
Comments at the meeting will be limited to changes that were initially proposed but are different in what’s now the final proposal before the commission.
The changes generally cover five areas, with the most controversial involving increasing the per person wolf bag limit. The initial proposal included seeking legislative approval in January to allow people to take more than one wolf. That meant the increased bag limit wouldn’t happen until after the 2013 legislature convenes.
However, after looking into the matter, Aasheim said FWP officials realized they have the power to increase the bag limit when it comes to trapping; the legislative approval is only needed to allow hunters to shoot more than one wolf.
So the new proposal advocates allowing up to three wolves per person, but only one can be harvested via hunting and the other two must be trapped. If that’s approved by the FWP Commission, it means people would be able to kill more than one wolf beginning this fall.
“This is part of our attempt to be a little more effective with our harvest,” Aasheim said. “It’s an attempt to hopefully take more wolves.”
Another proposal relaxes the 24-hour reporting requirement for people hunting in the backcountry. Aasheim said the change was made because, for example, some people on a 10-day hunting trip may shoot a wolf on the third day of the trip, but not have cell service to report the kill and instead would have to leave camp to travel long distances to notify FWP.
The new proposal would require the wolf harvest to be reported within 24 hours from arriving at a backcountry trailhead.
“We had people literally climbing mountains to try to report harvesting a wolf” last year, Aasheim said. “We want to make the reporting reasonable.”
FWP also is proposing that people who attend Idaho wolf trapping courses to be allowed to harvest them in Montana without having to take this state’s duplicative course. In addition, FWP wants to clarify that anyone who traps a nontargeted species, whether dead or alive, must report it.
Finally, FWP staff wants to allow the wolf hunting season to segue immediately from the archery to rifle season, similar to what’s done with bears. Originally, the wolf archery season was to end Oct. 14 and rifle season to start Oct. 20. They’re now proposing to allow the wolf rifle season to start Oct. 15.
“We don’t close the black bear season after archery, and we’re looking at doing something similar with wolves,” Aasheim said.
The FWP Commission meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Helena at the Montana Wild Education Center, 2668 Broadwater Ave., west of Helena near Spring Meadow Lake State Park.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org