By Chris Peterson Northwest Montana News Network
Discussion was often spirited at last week’s meeting on proposed changes to next fall’s Montana wolf hunt, but it was also civil.
Montana has a minimum of 653 wolves, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks would like to pare that number down to about 425 wolves, Region 1 wildlife manager Jim Williams told the 100 people at the FWP offices in Kalispell.
To do that, FWP has proposed eliminating wolf-hunting quotas in all but two areas of the state. One area is near Yellowstone National Park, and the other is the North Fork of the Flathead, on Glacier National Park’s western border. The quota would be two in the North Fork and three in the Yellowstone area.
FWP also has proposed a trapping season. Under the proposed rules, trappers would have to attend a mandatory wolf-trapping training course, check traps at least every 48 hours and not be allowed to use snares. Snares kill a wolf, foothold traps do not, it was explained.
The wolf-trapping season would run from Dec. 15 to Feb. 28 to avoid any incidental catches of grizzly bears. A wolf trap is large enough to catch and hold a grizzly.
In Idaho, with both hunting and trapping allowed, last season’s hunters took 254 wolves, while trappers took 124. The addition of trapping increased the wolf take by 50 percent, but Idaho allowed the use of snares.
Last week’s meeting, which was held to gauge public opinion and gather public input, drew a host of different interests. There were hunters and landowners who wanted wolf numbers reduced, and there were others who thought wolves should be protected.
FWP set up round-table discussion groups on the issues that often resulted in emotional debates. But with opposing parties sitting directly across or even next to one another, the discussions were far more civil than previous wolf meetings, where rancor often ruled the day. FWP also had biologists and game wardens at each table to answer questions.
“I think it’s good to hear other people’s opinions,” said Angie Davidson, a wolf advocate.
But Swan Valley hunter Lee Helgeland was worried about a wolf population that continues to increase, even after hunters took more than 160 animals last season.
“We’re trying to do something to turn that around,” he argued.
Helgeland said he adheres to something Albert Einstein said years ago.
“We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different answers,” he said.
But Helgeland didn’t want to see wolves exterminated, as some have called for.
“Most people on the hunting side don’t want to see them wiped out,” he said.
Davidson noted a societal value is also at work.
“How we control wolves says who we are as people,” she said.
FWP finds itself trying to maintain a viable wolf population while appeasing hunters. What the agency doesn’t want is for wolves to go back on the Endangered Species Act list, FWP biologist Tim Their said. The minimum count of 425 wolves is a “compromise,” he said.
The wolf harvest could be further liberalized when the Montana Legislature meets next winter. One of FWP’s main goals is to increase the take from one wolf per hunter to as high as three. They also want to legalize the use of electronic calls. If the legislature passes those bills early in the session, FWP would implement them as soon as possible, Their said.
The FWP commissioners will vote on the proposed wolf hunting and trapping regulations at their July 12 meeting.
Interested people can still comment on the plan online at www.fwp.mt.gov under “Opportunity for public comment” on the hunting home page or by mailing FWP Wildlife Bureau, Attn: Public Comment, P.O. Box 200701, Helena MT 59620-0701.