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Rancher ends public hunting in protest of wolf policies

Rancher ends public hunting in protest of wolf policies

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BUTTE - A Big Hole Valley rancher has pulled his property out of a popular public hunting program in protest of Montana's wolf management policies.

Fred Hirschy said Thursday he's fed up with Montana allowing too many wolves to roam and wants the predators numbers dramatically brought down. And he blasted the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for what he said is a normally lackluster response when his cattle have been attacked.

"When I call them, they don't do what I ask them to do anyway," he said. "We want more people on the ground and we want the people on the ground that can shoot some wolves."

He said after years of inaction by FWP following repeated attacks on his cattle, he saw no other option but to pull out of the block management program, which pays landowners to allow public hunting on their land. Hunters will lose access to 45,000 acres of Hirschy and his family ranches property west of Wisdom. Portions of the ranch have been enrolled in the program since 1996 and the cancellation of the contract will cost the Hirschys $12,000 this year.

Hirschy and other Big Hole ranchers met with Pat Flowers, regional FWP manager, Thursday in Wisdom to voice their frustrations with FWP over its wolf management.

"The sentiment expressed today is general frustration with the impacts that wolves are having on their livestock and I think that general frustration is not limited to the Big Hole Valley," Flowers told The Montana Standard.

He added the loss of the Hirschy Ranch from block management is unfortunate and he hopes they can work down the road to reenroll the ranch in the program.

"I'm disappointed because he had some valuable block management parcels," Flowers said. "He's been good cooperator and those were some great opportunities for hunters."

Hirschy said his ranch will have some hunting this season, but by permission only. Part of the ranch is under a FWP conservation easement that requires public hunting.

Although wolf hunting will open statewide Sunday, Hirschy doesn't support the hunt. He said wolf numbers have grown so large that it's beyond the point that hunters can effectively control the problem.

Instead, he supports classifying wolves as predators that can be shot on sight and having federal trappers kill more from the air. Only after bringing those numbers down would the wolf population be effectively reduced to the point where hunting should take place.

"They could give every hunter in the state a license and they wouldn't get (control) of them," he said. "They can grow them faster than we can take care of them."

Montana's wolf hunt began last month in two backcountry areas. Hunters killed nine wolves in three weeks in the Absaroka mountains, nearly reaching the quota for that wolf hunting district. The FWP Commission shut that hunt down to allow some harvest in other areas of the district in an effort to more effectively deal with wolves that attack livestock.

Hirschy said he's lost more than half a dozen cattle through the years. He said he's seen packs as large as 19 wolves and yet FWP has no idea how many wolves are in Montana.

Over the past year Hirschy has quit calling FWP when he's had attacks because he's given up on its management.

But that doesn't help FWP deal with the problems, said Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator.

"We can't address what we don't know about," she said. "If he's having problems and not reporting it, that's not helpful."

And Sime pointed out that until just a couple months ago, wolves were a federally protected species managed by FWP. She said FWP shared hunters' and ranchers' frustration with wolves remaining protected, but now the state has moved beyond that.

She said FWP agrees that the numbers, and pack sizes, need to be controlled and believes that hunting is among the means to do that.

"Public hunting and removal of some of these wolves in areas in close proximity to livestock we think is a good thing."

Sime disputed that FWP isn't aware of wolf numbers. She said it's true that the west Big Hole Valley has two large packs, as well as a third pack that lives primarily in the Anaconda Range. Hunting, with a quota of 22 wolves in that district, will hopefully reduce the size of those packs.

She added it's unfortunate that the Hirschy Ranch will drop out of the program because landowners and hunters share the goal of controlling wolf numbers. Sime said while Hirschy would like to see wolves managed like coyotes, which can be shot on sight, that would never pass muster with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.

"That's the Wyoming approach and we know how far we'll get down the road with that approach," she said. "Hunting is the appropriate way to decrease wolf numbers and control pack size."

Nick Gevock: nick.gevock@mtstandard.com

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