Gazette opinion: Steps toward better wolf management

2013-01-02T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Steps toward better wolf management The Billings Gazette
January 02, 2013 12:00 am

The wolf population of the Northern Rockies must be managed to protect livestock and to prevent overpredation of elk. Hunting is a good wolf-management tool, but trapping is less so.

Hunters armed with bows or rifles can target and swiftly dispatch wolves. As of Dec. 26, Montana hunters had killed 100 wolves this season. Meanwhile in Wyoming, as of Dec. 26, hunters had killed 40 wolves and a hunt area northwest of Cody was closed after the limit of four wolves had been shot.

Trapping risks ensnaring other species. Moreover, the trapped animal does not necessarily die quickly.

In the very first week of Montana’s wolf trapping season, two mountain lions, a coyote and a bobcat were captured — along with 13 wolves statewide. A Fish Wildlife and Parks supervisor told the Ravalli Republic that capture of unintended species is to be expected.

The first week of wolf trapping also showed the threat that traps can pose to humans and dogs. Several trappers had set wolf traps in a popular cross-country ski area in the Bitterroot National Forest. The Montana Trappers Association and FWP urged trappers to look for other places that aren’t so heavily used. The Forest Service temporarily added all the ski trails to its official trail system so traps would have to be set back 150 feet.

Just days before the first Montana wolf trapping season began Dec. 15, the FWP Commission voted to close two areas on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park to hunting and trapping of wolves for this season. The commission’s action was a response to the killing of seven Yellowstone wolves that wandered outside the park in recent weeks. Five of these were radio-collared wolves, including the much-photographed alpha female of a park pack. Four other radio-collared wolves, originally from the park, but having moved outside it, also were shot. The loss of the nine radio-collared animals will affect wildlife research and management capabilities.

Experience to date indicates revision is needed in Montana’s wolf management policy and law:

-- Areas on Yellowstone’s border should be permanently off limits to wolf hunting and trapping. Wolves are a top attraction for the park’s 3 million annual visitors. Wolf watchers flock to the park year-round, spending money in area motels, restaurants and other businesses. The Yellowstone population, estimated at about 80 wolves (after recent shootings) must be protected.

-- Montana law should be changed to allow a hunter to shoot more than one wolf. Present law allows a hunter only one wolf kill.

-- Hunters should be discouraged from shooting radio-collared wolves.

-- Most importantly, wolf trapping should be restricted to districts in which wolves are prevalent and hunting has not sufficiently reduced their numbers.

FWP commissioners are under intense pressure on all wolf decisions. We commend the temporary action the commission took based on facts. We call on the commission and the Legislature to use sound science and common sense to adjust and balance Montana’s wolf-management policy. This native species should be preserved in parks and wilderness, and carefully controlled elsewhere.

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