Wildlife commission adopts new wolf hunting and trapping regulations | 406 Politics

Following a spirited meeting Thursday at the State Capitol, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission passed regulations for wolf hunting and trapping for the upcoming season, including setting a quota of six wolves in an area just north of Yellowstone National Park.

The commission largely adopted the recommendations of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and retained many elements of the previous regulations. Changes passed for this year include a combined wolf and furbearer rulebook, moving the state’s 18 wolf management units to seven regional trapping units, and adopting strict quotas for regions. and statewide. Perhaps the biggest change comes from the reinstatement of a quota for the area near Yellowstone.

The commission annually reviews wolf trapping and hunting regulations, and although the topics tend to spark heated debate, this year’s meeting drew particular attention following a controversial decision the year latest to lift quotas in Districts 313 and 316 north of Yellowstone. Districts previously had quotas as low as two due to wildlife tourism in the area, but without a quota, 21 wolves, some associated with long-term Park Service research, were killed.

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The final season was also the first after a list of trapping and wolf laws were enacted. Among these was a bill ordering state wildlife managers to reduce Montana’s wolf population. This in turn led to regulations including the trapping of wolves, higher individual limits, and the use of bait to hunt wolves. It has also drawn condemnation from some wildlife advocates who are pushing the federal government to re-list wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

Audience members were limited to one minute each, as nearly 100 commentators spent more than two hours defending their position on the wolves. The majority of those present and online favored more restrictions or the elimination of wolf trapping and hunting, focusing heavily on hunting near Yellowstone and not asking for or lower hunting quotas in the area. outside of Gardiner.

“What has happened in Montana for the past two years has become an international scandal,” Kim Bean of Wolves of the Rockies told the commission.

Several wildlife tourism business owners or guides from the Gardiner area also testified. The loss of wolves to tourists, coupled with flooding earlier this year, has hit the city particularly hard, they said.

“We’re all aligned with low wolf quotas around Yellowstone,” said Nathan Varley, owner of Yellowstone Wolf Tracker.

FWP estimates that about 1,100 wolves occupy the state, and their numbers have remained relatively stable for about a decade. The regulations passed on Thursday would allow 456 wolves to be killed in the coming season – a number that Brian Wakeling, head of the FWP’s Office of Wildlife Management, said would meet the legislative directive to reduce populations.

The regulations include a combination of Districts 313 and 316 with the quota of six wolves. A statewide quota of 450 wolves is added to the individual quotas for each region, based on estimated populations. For example, Region 1 in northwest Montana with the highest population would close if 195 wolves were killed.

Hunters and trappers have never approached 450 wolves in previous seasons, with a record of around 330 two seasons ago. This does not include wolves removed by federal wildlife officers to protect livestock. Proponents of more intense wolf hunting say reduced populations will help reduce predation on big game herds and lessen the impacts on ranchers. And some commentators have argued against restoring the quotas, saying the number of elk that once migrated from the park has dropped dramatically.

Several trappers have advocated changes to the regulations, in particular to separate the regulations for lethal traps from foot traps. The commission adopted “floating” starting data for the wolf trapping season, with the season opening once biologists are satisfied the federally protected grizzly bears are hibernating. This actually led to a later start date last year than previous seasons in areas with grizzlies. But if these were split, the trappers thought the foot traps could be placed sooner.

“These are two different tools for trapping and they should be treated as such,” said Paul Antczak, a trapper from northwest Montana.

The commission also decided not to allow snares on public lands in Canada lynx recovery areas.

Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who brought some of the wolf and trapping bills, testified that the restrictions on the use of snares and the floating start date went against the Legislative Assembly.

“That was not the intent of the legislation when it was introduced,” he said, pointing to language that said more aggressive regulations should be used in areas with high wolf populations.

Several commentators have taken issue with FWP’s methodology for counting wolves. The agency uses the modeling partly based on surveys of deer and elk hunters, and opponents have raised questions about its accuracy.

“As stewards, it is your responsibility to request and rely on accurate information,” said Sierra Club’s Bonnie Rice.

Others criticized the decision to eliminate wolf management units in favor of regions.

The most heated moment of Thursday’s hearing came when Doug Smith, a Park Service biologist and longtime head of the Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone, was asked to stop his testimony after a minute during a comment. audience. This drew ridicule from many in the crowd, but commission chairman Lesley Robinson decided he was restricted to the same limit as other commentators.

Smith was then brought back to the podium during a committee question and answer session. Smith said he spoke to the FWP and the commissioners and appreciated the responsiveness to his agency’s concerns. The past season has not been a compromise between the sometimes competing management goals of the park service and the state, he said.

The service asked in public comments for a quota of six wolves for the area north of the park — an amendment the commission adopted rather than the agency’s recommendation of 10 wolves.

“Six was the number we asked for and we appreciate that because it’s very important,” Smith said.

Commissioner Pat Tabor, who brought about the quota reduction, said he found public testimony as well as literature from Yellowstone compelling, including that the hunt resulted in the elimination of a much-loved wolf pack.

“It compelled me to say there is a compromise here,” he said. “…I think it strikes a balance.”

Tom Kuglin is an associate editor in the state bureau of Lee Newspapers. Its coverage focuses on the outdoors, recreation and natural resources.

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