Bowing to the Legislature, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a controversial measure for public comment that would allow landowners to shoot up to 100 wolves a year without a license if the animals threaten humans, livestock or pets.
The measure didn’t set well with some commission members.
“It seems to me the quota really minimizes the urgency under which those wolves should be taken,” said commissioner Matthew Tourtlotte of Billings. “To me it sends the wrong message.”
The Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks staff set the quota at 100 to “put that authority on the ground” as much as possible, said Quentin Kujala, wildlife administrator. Yet between 2005 and 2013 only 69 wolves have been taken in similar circumstances, or about eight wolves a year.
Kujala said a lower quota could put the department in a bind with the legislation’s intent if the quota were close to being reached.
Nick Gevock, of the Montana Wildlife Federation, spoke in favor of the measure saying that when ranchers can protect their property it helps build social tolerance for wolves on the landscape.
Commission chairman Dan Vermillion urged his fellow members to be vigilant of how and where the wolves are killed to see if landowners are abusing the opportunity.
Public comment on the quota will be taken until 5 p.m. on June 23. Final adoption would take place at the July commission meeting.
The landowner quota was in stark contrast to earlier moves by the commission to establish a wolf conservation stamp for nonhunters and to lower the quota on wolves in one hunting district near Yellowstone National Park from four to three.
Conservation groups of all stripes stepped to the microphone to endorse the conservation stamp.
“For the first time, it provides an opportunity for the nonhunting, nontrapping public to contribute funding to FWP that would only be spent on efforts to promote the conservation and responsible management of wolves and other wildlife in the state,” said Zack Strong, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an email.
“If I were wearing a hat I would tip it to chairman Vermillion,” Tourtlotte said, since Vermillion had shepherded the idea.
Gevock said such conservation stamps could be a new model for helping spread state wildlife management beyond just hunters, whose license fees fund FWP.
“This is probably the most expeditious conversation on wolves we’ve had since I’ve been on the commission,” Vermillion said.
Lowering the wolf quota from four to three in a hunting district outside of Yellowstone passed on a divided 3-2 commission vote, with opponents arguing that the move was largely symbolic and would not have any noticeable effect on wolf populations in the park.
“I don’t see any indication that hunting is having an impact on the park population,” Vermillion said, later opposing the measure. Tourtlotte also voted against the drop, saying the wolf regulations should go out for public comment first.
Several conservation groups spoke in favor of the measure, while some hunters suggested more wolf kills are warranted.
The only other change to the wolf hunting regulations from last year addressed the same essential concern — wolves that travel out of Yellowstone. For the 2014-15 wolf season, FWP is proposing to reduce the closure period in Wolf Management Units 313 and 316 from 24 hours to 12 hours. This will have the effect of closing the wolf harvest season at the end of the same day the closure notice is posted.
Public comment will be taken on the wolf hunting regulations until 5 p.m. on June 23. Final adoption by the commission is set for July.