Wolf Management Comments Sought

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Wolves are hot stuff.

If you’re a Montana rancher, hunter, outfitter, hiker, homeowner, or lawmaker, at sometime over the past few years, you've likely felt the heat.

Gray wolves are thriving and expanding in number and distribution in Montana. Wolves began their own natural emigration from Canada almost 20 years ago and they've benefited from a remarkably successful federal effort in the mid-1990s to reintroduce the species into Yellowstone National Park and the wilderness areas of central Idaho.

As a result, and due in large measure to Montanans' cautious tolerance, more wolves inhabit Montana today—about 180 of them--than at any time in the past 70 years.

And, just two weeks ago, federal authorities took a seldom-seen step toward removing this widely disparaged and admired animal from the nation's still growing list of endangered species.

Today, wolves in northwestern Montana are no longer "endangered," or in clear danger of going extinct. They've dropped a classification rung to "threatened," and can now be managed under federal regulations with a bit more flexibility.

The new federal rule further enhances the ability of private landowners—and agencies like Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks—to resolve conflicts on private land and it offers wildlife officials additional help to address wolf and livestock conflicts on public lands.

"The reclassification of wolves in much of the West is an important and tangible step that shows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is serious about delisting the species," says Carolyn Sime, the FWP wildlife biologist shepherding the state's effort to develop a wolf conservation and management plan. "And it shows that with proper management a state like Montana can allow wolves to exist within a complex biological, social, economic, and political landscape."

The reclassification couldn't come at a better time.

To help the USFWS take the next step—the ultimate proposal to delist the gray wolf-- Montana is only months away from adopting a wolf conservation and management plan.

FWP recently released a draft environmental impact statement with five different wolf management alternatives. One alternative suggests that FWP should neither prepare nor adopt a plan. Others, including the state's preferred alternative, suggest that FWP should develop a plan, and outlines specific conservation and management philosophies, strategies, and tools.

This month, FWP will host a series of 12 community work sessions across Montana to take comment on the draft EIS. The draft EIS, and related wolf management information and comment areas, are available via FWP's website at < ahref="http://www.fwp.state.mt.us" target="new">www.fwp.state.mt.us. Click on Montana Wolf Management in the Hot Topics box for a full list of meetings, or call your nearest FWP office for information. Comment will be accepted through May 12.

"The people of Montana have worked on this issue in anticipation of wolf's delisting for almost five years," Sime says. "Montanans helped develop a very workable plan, one that works for people and for wildlife. We're hoping many take the time to help fine tune the final plan."

An estimated 660 wolves, and more than 40 breeding pairs of wolves, inhabit the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf Recovery Area that includes Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Federal wolf managers recently concluded the sustained and equitable distribution of wolves in the tri-state recovery area for the past three years indicates that the population is biologically recovered.

USFWS could propose to delist the wolf later this year, once state wolf management plans are adopted in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Once delisted, wolves will come under state management.