Montana's wolf hunting quota could more than double for the 2010 hunting season under a proposal released Friday.
Wolf managers want the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to consider overall harvest rates next year of 186 or 216 wolves, compared to last year's quota of 75 wolves in three management units.
In addition, the state proposes to create 14 subunits within the three wolf management units in order to better focus hunting efforts in areas where wolves may be preying on livestock.
Under the new plan, northwestern Montana would have nine wolf management units with a total quota of 122 or 133 wolves; western Montana would have two management units with a total quota of 26 or 31 wolves; and the three proposed management units in the southwestern portion of the state would have a total quota of 38 or 52 wolves. Eastern Montana is included in some of two of the three hunting units.
"We've learned a lot over the past year and our proposals for 2010 reflect a rigorous, science-based effort to manage the total number of wolves that can be taken by hunters while maintaining a balance among all wildlife, their habitats and the people who live here," said Ken McDonald, FWP's chief of wildlife. "That balance will include managing for a recovered wolf population while addressing livestock depredation and impacts to other wildlife.
"It's our responsibility to address the fact that more than 200 sheep and about 100 head of cattle were killed by wolves last year and that wolves have depressed deer and elk populations in some areas."
Currently, Montana is home to at least 524 wolves in 101 verified packs.
McDonald said a harvest quota of 186 wolves probably would reduce the wolf population by about 13 percent, to about 439 wolves living in packs at the end of 2010. A harvest quota of 216 is projected to reduce the wolf population to 403 wolves living in packs, or by about 20 percent. These projections include anticipated reductions due to livestock depredation and mortalities from other events, like accidents and natural causes.
The commission can decide to set a quote recommended by the FWP staff; go for something in between; or set a lower or higher quota.
McDonald noted that the proposed harvest alternatives carry specific tradeoffs.
"We believe both options are in line with our wildlife management responsibilities," he said. "The lower quota of 186 wolves moves us at a slower management pace, while a quota of 216 wolves allows us to move a bit more rapidly to address the wildlife and livestock depredation issues that are occurring. In both cases, we know these quotas are conservative and in line with what we think will be viewed as reasonable proposals. We need to hear how the commission and public feel about the pace and the associated tradeoffs."
The public will have an opportunity to comment on any proposal approved by the commission. Statewide meetings to discuss the proposals will be held June 2. The public comment period is expected to run through June 14. A final decision on the wolf season and quota is set for July 8.
The FWP Commission will meet May 13 at the FWP Helena Headquarters, 1420 East 6th Ave. beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Check tomorrow's Independent Record for more information about the quota.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org