With seven known packs, Mineral County could be wolf hunter’s paradise
by John Q. Murray
Mineral County guides and outfitters may soon have a brand-new economic opportunity: Guiding hunters to wolves during the general hunting season.
If the gray wolf is removed from the endangered species list as expected this spring, and the state of Montana moves ahead with its proposal to manage wolf populations through hunting–just as hunts are used to manage other big-game populations–Mineral County could immediately become a wolf hunter’s paradise. The county is home to at least seven packs, with at least 36 wolves.
The state of Montana solicited comments at the Superior ranger district last week on its proposal for a wolf hunting season.
Wolf management specialist Liz Bradley will speak during an informational meeting on Feb. 7 at 6 p.m., in the commissioners’ meeting room in Superior.
In a preview of her upcoming meeting, Liz told the Chronicle that Mineral County is home to at least seven packs:
* the Saltese pack, south of Saltese; at least two wolves;
* the De Borgia pack, at least four wolves;
* the Mineral Mountain pack, northwest of St. Regis; at least four wolves;
* the Superior pack, south of town, eight wolves;
* the Bitterroot Range pack, North Fork Fish Creek, at least five wolves;
* the Fish Creek pack, in Idaho and down the main fork of Fish Creek; nine to 10 wolves;
* the Blue Mountain pack, which travels into Albert Creek; at least four wolves.
That list doesn’t include Missoula County’s Ninemile pack. The western ridge of the Ninemile Valley marks the Mineral County line, and wildlife follow well-established corridors west from the Nine Mile valley.
The total of 36 wolves in seven packs is a conservative estimate, Liz noted. Biologists count wolves during flyovers in fixed-wing aircraft. Not all the wolves in the pack may be in the area at the time of the flyover, or they may hide until the plane has passed. The counts represent only those wolves that are confirmed sightings, so the actual count is probably higher.
Four wolves in Mineral County are collared with radio collars to help track their movements: one wolf from the De Borgia pack, one from the Superior pack, and two from the Mineral Mountain pack.
Under the proposed wolf hunting regulations, Mineral County would be part of Management Unit 1, which covers northern Montana. Its southern border goes from Lolo Pass along Highway 12 to I-90, east along I-90 to I-15, north to Montana Highway 200, and then east to the North Dakota border.
Montana’s Management Unit 2 is south of Highway 12 and west of I-15. The third unit covers the rest of the state.
The proposed season would stretch from Sept. 15 to Nov. 30, from the beginning of the archery season to the end of the general rifle season.
Superior game warden Mike Fegely said comments on the “Tentatives”–the proposed wolf hunting regulations–run the entire gamut, from those persons who think all wolves should be preserved to those who want to kill them all.
The majority of comments made to him personally on the street and around town indicate that most people favor a hunting season, he said. “A lot of people say, ‘We don’t want the damn things here to begin with, but if we’re stuck with them, at least give us the tools to manage them.’”
Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has the skills and expertise to manage large predators and is ready to take on that responsibility, he said. “Just hand over the reins and let us do what we know how to do, which is manage wildlife,” he said.
He said giving the state more tools and more flexibility in managing problem wolves and packs that are potential depredations on lifestock will lead to more public acceptance.
“I think people will be a lot more comfortable once we have some management control over it, and when it’s not looked at as coming out of Washington, D.C. You have a lot more input at the state level,” he said.
The new management tools could also change the wolves’ habits, he said. Once we have a hunting season, “I think they’ll be a little less apt to be amongst people and calving grounds,” he said.
Wolf hunting will be handled much as mountain lions, he pointed out: You buy a wolf tag, and if you had a tag with you and saw a wolf, as long as the quota for that management unit wasn’t full, you could shoot that wolf.
The first year will not include a trapping season, but the second year, 25 percent of the quota will go to trapping.
The FWP is also seeking public comment on a proposal to start the hunting season on the same date every year rather than always starting on a weekend. With a fixed date, the opener would fall on a different day of the week every year, and might take some hunting pressure off opening day.
People have strong feelings on that proposal, he said. “They like the fact that it starts on a weekend so that you can get out and take your kids with you. They like it opening on Sunday–it gives folks a little more equal opportunity on the opening day.”
There is also a proposal to offer an over-the-counter archery-only antlerless elk tag. “The main opposition was that we would have to offer the same to non-residents. People weren’t that fond of giving non-residents the ability to come in here and buy an elk tag over the counter,” he said.
Region 2 is also considering a permit-based system for mountain lions similar to Region 1. You wouldn’t just buy a license–you would also have to apply for a permit to hunt in that area. Hunters would be allowed to chase but not kill a mountain lion unless they had the permit.
Reaction on that proposal has been mixed, he said. There is a lot of opposition from the houndsmen. Some folks in Region 1 really like it and are in favor of it, and others don’t like it one bit. “It just depends on how they like to hunt,” he said.
FWP will continue to accept comments on the proposals by email or in writing through Feb. 13. For more information, see the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov.