by Evan Weborg – MTN News
HELENA – Wolf hunting is a hot topic in Montana, and one that’s stirred up controversy. To get a better sense of the issue, Montana Television Network reporter Evan Weborg goes on Special Assignment to show us how the big game balance may be shifting.
For hunter Stan Stroisch all animals have a right to live here in northwest Montana: “Just not in the numbers that our predators have right now, I think we are way out of balance.”
“Balance” is the key word and with Montana deer and elk season nearing an end, both Stroisch and hunting guide Vic McGary have mixed emotions on how predators including wolves are impacting the big game population.
“Being a guide you definitely can see the impact on the number of big game animals that you are seeing, it is pretty obvious when you are spending a lot more time a lot more man-hours basically tracking and hunting and you are seeing less and less,” McGary said.
However, Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says wolves haven’t quite impacted Montana at the level some people think.
“We are at objective and over-objective at 70% of our units. It is just those areas where people have honed in on and have hunted all of their lives and they see these impacts. That is hard to swallow, we understand that, so we are trying to get a handle on wolf numbers and get a balance out there,” Aasheim said.
FWP estimates the wolf population in northwest Montana at more than 370 wolves; that is over half of the minimum wolf population in the entire state.
State officials are trying to manage this population by allowing hunters to kill wolves – and that worries outfitter Lisa Lee.
“I think at one point you had a question about how has wolf hunting affecting the outfitting industry, and was it a good thing? I don’t know of any one who views it as a good thing because I don’t think we have effective tools,” Lee said.
Lee says hunting wolves isn’t easy; she said that they are smart and continue to outsmart the hunters, and since hunters can’t use electronic calls, it makes killing one extremely difficult.
She also says out of state tags are too expensive at $350 each.
The concern for deer and elk numbers doesn’t just end with outfitters but for the hunters as well as they fear that their kids and grandkids are not going to be able to enjoy the outdoors like they always have.
“I would hate to see the big game population dwindle to the point where my grandchildren doesn’t have the opportunity to hunt or have the numbers to hunt. I am not anti-wolf, I am not pro-wolf, I am pro-game,” Stroisch said.