Gardners, PA --(Ammoland.com)- State wildlife agencies in Idaho and Montana are closely monitoring their respective wolf harvests and making adjustments midway through their second season managing wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.
At a recent meeting, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) Commission extended the wolf-hunting season and made other adjustments to regulations to increase the effectiveness of hunting as a management tool.
In Idaho, the Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) is planning to use government trappers and aerial gunning to remove wolves in a remote wolf-harvest zone where public hunting and trapping have fallen short of the management objective.
The first modern wolf seasons in the northern Rocky Mountains occurred in 2009, following a ruling by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that removed wolves in Idaho and Montana from the list of threatened and endangered species. That year, Montana set a harvest quota of 75 wolves; Idaho’s quota was 220. Between August 2009 and March 2010, hunters killed a total of 72 wolves in Montana and 188 in Idaho. Neither state allowed wolf trapping during that first year.
A second season scheduled for the fall and winter of 2010-11 was blocked by a successful court challenge to the 2009 delisting rule. Congress reinstated the federal rule in April 2011, and precluded any further legal challenges to delisting in Montana and Idaho, setting the stage for the states to resume harvest. Idaho authorized both hunting and trapping for wolves, whereas Montana chose to continue hunting only.
Both states designed this year’s regulations to reduce overall wolf numbers, in response to concerns about the impact of wolves on livestock and big game in some areas. Montana adopted the same hunting season as 2009, September 1 to December 31, but increased the number of Wolf Management Units (WMU) from 3 to 14 to distribute harvest more effectively across the state. Because each WMU has its own quota, managers can achieve higher harvest in some areas, such as the upper Bitterroot drainage where elk numbers have declined substantially, and avoid overharvest in other areas with fewer wolves. Modeling predicts that a harvest equal to the quota of 220 would reduce the year-end minimum total wolf numbers approximately 25 percent, from 566 in 2010 to a predicted 425 in 2011.
The management objectives in Idaho are to reduce overall wolf numbers from a population in excess of 1,000 in 2011 to a level in balance with other big game species, to reduce attacks on livestock and domestic animals, and to keep wolves from encroaching on populated areas. Based on results of the 2009 season, Idaho set quotas for 5 of the 13 harvest zones to prevent localized overharvest, but set no upper limit for the statewide take.
Idaho’s 2011 wolf season began August 30, with 13 wolf harvest zones used to distribute hunting. The season will close in 2 zones on December 31. The season will extend until March 31, 2012 in 9 zones and until June 30 in the Selway and Lolo harvest zones. The late closure in the Selway and Lolo zones is intended to give spring bear hunters the opportunity to take wolves in those units, where elk numbers have declined substantially in recent years. Managers want to remove 60 wolves in the Lolo zone, because wolf predation is a major mortality factor for elk calves.
Idaho also authorized wolf trapping for the first time beginning November 15. Anyone planning to trap wolves must attend a special wolf trapper education workshop before purchasing a wolf-trapping license.
By the end of Montana’s general big game season on November 27, hunters reported taking only 100 wolves, with harvest quotas reached in only 1 of 18 WMUs. One additional WMU quota was met on December 5.
Given the low harvest rates, the MFWP Commission last month proposed extending the season to February 15 in the remaining 16 WMUs. MFWP Wildlife Management Section Chief, Quentin Kujala, reported that public comments on the proposed season extension were deeply polarized, as is typical with most wolf-management issues.
At its December 8 meeting, the MFWP Commission discussed the season extension and other regulation changes, including allowing the use of electronic calls, but could not implement some of those without amendments to state statutes. The Montana legislature next convenes in 2013. After taking additional public comment, and in the hope of enhancing harvest success, the Commission adopted the season extension and waived the requirement of 400 square inches of “hunter orange” above the waist.
At the same meeting, the MFWP Commission authorized the use of hunters to assist landowners and USDA Wildlife Services remove depredating wolves outside the normal hunting season dates. Although hunters will have to purchase a license and obey all hunting regulations, wolves taken as part of depredation-control efforts will not count against the hunting quota, because those limits take into consideration the likely number of wolves to be removed in control actions. Kraig Glazier, Wildlife Services’ District Supervisor in Helena, said that adding hunters to the toolbox gives his agency one more way to work with producers to protect livestock at a time when budgets are tight.
As of December 12, hunters in Idaho reported taking 155 wolves and trappers reported taking an additional 3. None of the zones with limited harvests had reached their quota, and only 6 wolves were reported taken in the Lolo zone. IDFG Regional Supervisor in Lewiston, Dave Cadwalladar, said the department is planning to use government trappers and aerial gunning in the Lolo zone to achieve the desired take. Although use of helicopters to remove wolves last spring was not cost-effective, due to lack of snow cover, Cadwallader believes success may be higher in mid-winter.
Some wolf-protection advocates claim that Montana’s season extension and Idaho’s plans to use government trappers and aerial gunning are evidence that the states cannot be trusted to manage wolves. In contrast, Montana Wildlife Federation acting Executive Director Ben Lamb described the WFWP Commission’s decisions as, “A great example of adaptive management.”
Managing wolves is a new endeavor for the Idaho and Montana wildlife agencies, but regulating harvest to achieve scientifically sound objectives is a long- and well-established practice. Quotas in all of Montana’s WMUs and some harvest zones in Idaho, combined with continued monitoring of the overall take will ensure that the total number of wolves killed does not jeopardize the population. Although both states want to reduce wolf numbers, neither wants to risk re-listing or loss of management authority.
Wildlife Management Institute: Founded in 1911, WMI is a private, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization, dedicated to the conservation, enhancement and professional management of North America’s wildlife and other natural resources. Visit: www.wildlifemanagementinstitute.org