Saturday began one of the most anxiously awaited seasons in Montana—the opening of general big game hunting for elk and deer. It’s a cultural tradition that bonds neighbor to neighbor, father to daughter, grandmother to grandson — and one that is especially important in Montana.
Over the course of Montana’s unique five-week-long general hunting season, more than 250,000 proud hunters will chart more than 2 million days afield in pursuit of elk and deer. Some 13,000 will also have a license to legally hunt a wolf for only the second time in recent memory.
Montana set the quota for the wolf harvest at 220 animals and each harvest must be reported. But we need many more hunters to keep an eye out for wolves to help Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks manage this relatively new addition to our state.
The wolf, unlike most other wildlife species, offers more ways than one to be counted. Wolves howl. They walk on forest roads. They leave tracks. And they are increasingly observed by people. For skilled and informed outdoorsmen and women, wolves leave plenty of sign.
Unlike deer and elk, wolves live in packs. When you find the tracks of a wolf—and especially the tracks of three or more running together—the odds are high that they patrol an area of some 200 square miles.
In this manner, wolf packs sit on the map of Montana like a hundred interlocking puzzle pieces. Like any puzzle, the first few pieces are the toughest to find and fit together. That’s why FWP goes to the extra effort of capturing and placing radio collars on wolves across Montana. The home ranges of radioed wolves describe the outlines of each pack territory on the map, and the radios lead your FWP wildlife biologists in airplanes or on foot to the rest of their pack members.
This fall, as hundreds of thousands of hunters comb the far corners Montana — often in tracking snow — we ask that they also take the time to report their specific observations of wolves or tracks to FWP. With that first hand information, wildlife biologists will return to many of the sites to confirm wolf presence.
For wolves, FWP can report with unwavering confidence that no fewer than 560 wolves existed in Montana on Dec. 31, 2010. No number in wildlife management history has been more closely scrutinized. And the wolf in Montana is no longer federally listed as endangered today.
FWP, however, knows there are more wolves in Montana than the ones we can count and verify. That’s where Montana hunters come in. A hunter’s sighting will help further verify the activity, distribution and individual pack sizes of Montana’s wolf population.
With the help of Montana’s hunters, if the population number change dramatically on Dec. 31, 2011—we are expecting a 25 percent decline if we reach the harvest quota of 220 — FWP will respond with appropriate management adjustments.
To report a wolf sighting, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click “Report a Wolf Sighting.”
Joe Maurier is director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.