Montana Seeks Comments on Removal of 12 Wolves

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Montana wildlife officials are seeking comment on a request that would allow the state to remove up to 12 wolves from the West Fork of the Bitterroot River drainage in southwestern Montana.

On Thursday, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission gave its initial approval to FWP’s proposal for the limited control action. Under the proposal, FWP will seek to obtain federal permission to allow 100 participants to act as agents of the state to take up to 12 wolves from hunting district 250 south of Darby.

FWP wildlife biologists believe wolves are contributing to a drop in the hunting district’s elk population from about 1,900 in 2005 to fewer than 765 today, or about 40 percent below the area’s elk population goal.

To carry out the proposal, eligible participants would apply for 100 permits to act as designated state agents to take wolves between Dec. 15 and Feb. 28, 2011. Up to 10 percent of the participants could be nonresidents. Each wolf removal must be reported within 12 hours.

FWP proposes to remove about half of the wolves in the area and maintain the wolf population at 12 by allowing for additional take, if necessary, through 2015, contingent upon federal approval.

Authority to conduct wolf removals is permissible under the federal Endangered Species Act’s "10(j) rule," which may allow for the removal of wolves within "experimental-nonessential" populations that cause unacceptable declines to other wildlife populations. The wolves in hunting district 250 are included in Montana’s experimental-nonessential population, which is generally located across the southern half of Montana.

FWP joined in a federal lawsuit in defense of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 decision to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho, but not in Wyoming. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, however, reinstated federal protections of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains on Aug. 5.

At least 525 wolves live in Montana and FWP had hoped to reduce the state’s year end wolf population to about 450 this year by using a combination of management tools, including hunting.

Comments on this proposal are due by 5 p.m. on Nov.10. To comment , visit FWP online at . Click " For Hunters ." Or write to FWP Wildlife Bureau; Public Comments; P.O. Box 200701; Helena, MT 59620-0701.

Under federal law the proposal must also be reviewed by a group of independent wolf and wildlife biologists. The FWP Commission will take final action on the proposal on Nov. 18.

The recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies is one of the most successful and rapid endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid-1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, more than 60 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.

The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs—successfully reproducing wolf packs—and a minimum of 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years. This goal was achieved in 2002, and the wolf population has increased every year since.

The wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Area, which comprises parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, was estimated to be at least 1,706, with 242 packs, and 115 breeding pairs at the end of last year. About 525 wolves were estimated to inhabit Montana, in 100 packs and 34 breeding pairs.

To learn more about Montana’s wolf population, visit FWP online at . Click Montana Wolves.