States Anticipate Fall Wolf Hunts

States Anticipate Fall Wolf Hunts

States in the Northern Rockies are in the process of finalizing wolf-hunting regulations after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed (delisted) wolves from the endangered species list earlier this spring, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have released draft recommended quotas for hunter kills, but whether the hunts actually occur will depend on the status of a lawsuit filed by environmental organizations.

With recovery goals met or exceeded in the Northern Rockies, FWS officially turned wolf management over to the states at the end of March 2008. The delisting depended on the states having approved management plans. Each of the states took the initiative to develop a hunting program as part of its plan. At the time of delisting, there was an estimated regional population of 1,500 wolves, and the FWS and states agreed to maintain no fewer than 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves per state. State fish and game commissions have met to establish regulations, season lengths and statewide quotas. The overall harvest numbers vary widely.

In Idaho, with a wolf population estimated to exceed 1,000 this fall, the state authorized a quota of 428 animals statewide for all mortality (hunting, depredation, natural causes, etc.). Season dates will begin in mid-September in the backcountry and October 1 throughout the rest of the state. They will run until the quota is met or until the commission meets in November to determine if a season extension will be warranted. Wolves will be managed in zones, and, when limits are met in individual zones, the hunting season in that zone will be closed. If the statewide quota is reached, the result will be an end-of-year population of fewer than 550 wolves.

In Montana, the state is receiving public comment through July 18 on the proposed harvest quota of 75 animals for the fall hunting season. The state's 2007 estimated wolf population was approximately 420, and the population has been increasing about 28 percent each year. Montana's backcountry wolf season in four wilderness-area hunting districts has been approved for September 15 through November 30, and a general wolf season would run from October 26 through December 31.

Wyoming's wolf-management plan had been the most controversial. Ultimately agreed to by the FWS, it includes trophy game status for wolves only in the northwestern part of the state. The statewide population is estimated at about 350 animals, and the state has set a relatively conservative harvest quota of 25 wolves in this trophy game area. Hunt dates are expected to run from October 1 through November.

"We see our proposed hunting season for 2008 as a very conservative start to hunting wolves in Wyoming's trophy game area," commented Eric Keszler, spokesperson for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). "Hunting seasons for wolves are an integral part of Wyoming's overall wolf-management strategy, and we hope to learn a lot from the 2008 season and make adjustments to future seasons as appropriate."

Each state also has relaxed rules to allow the killing of wolves. Outside of Wyoming's northwestern trophy game area, for example, wolves are classified as predators, and the state's agreed population targets (150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs) do not apply. Ranchers in the predatory animal area are able to kill wolves at any time for any reason and do not need to contact WGFD before doing so. However, hunters and ranchers in both the trophy game and predatory animal areas are required to notify the agency after taking a wolf under any circumstances. Since wolves were delisted, 19 wolves have been killed in Wyoming's predatory animal areas. Both Idaho and Montana also have allowed depredation killing. It has been estimated that more than 70 wolves have been killed in the three states since the delisting became official.

Upon final approval by each state's wildlife commission, wolf hunts will go into effect. However environmental organizations sued the FWS in late April for removing wolves from the endangered species list. The groups have also filed an emergency injunction that would stop the killing of wolves until the judge rules on the lawsuit. Judge Donald W. Molloy, in the U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana, heard testimony on the case in late May, but a decision has not yet been made.

?In other wolf-related news, U.S. senators John Barasso and Jon Tester, both of Wyoming, have introduced legislation to require the federal government to match funds that compensate ranchers for livestock lost to wolves and other predator species. S. 2875, the Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act of 2008, also would require the Secretary of the Interior to develop grant-based preventative programs for activities that reduce the risk to livestock. In a hearing in the Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on July 9, witnesses for the Administration explained that they opposed the bill because delisting wolves puts the decision of whether and how much to compensate ranchers up to state governments. The Administration also noted that the bill is too broad in the inclusion of numerous predatory species and vague in its application. (jas)

July 13, 2008