The wolf population in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River drainage would be cut in half under the preferred alternative proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a draft environmental assessment.
The assessment, released Monday, is in response to a request by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to reduce the number of wolves blamed for the continued decline of the area’s elk herd south of Hamilton. The request falls under the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 10(j) management rule that allows states or tribes to kill wolves within the “experimental population area when wolf predation is having an unacceptable impact on wild ungulate populations.”
FWP submitted its request on Nov. 24, asking that the wolf numbers be reduced from 30 in three packs to a minimum of 12 in two to three packs.
For the entire West Fork unit, the state’s 2010 survey estimated the elk population at 764. The state’s zone-wide objective is 1,600 to 2,400 elk. FWP has implemented other conservation measures, including more liberal hunting seasons and bag limits for black bears and mountain lions, habitat improvement through prescribed burning and modifications to elk hunting to reduce harvest.
None has helped the elk population rebound.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft EA contains two alternatives: a preferred alternative and a no-action alternative. The preferred alternative would allow Montana to implement its proposal.
If this alternative is chosen, the FWS would then prepare a Final EA and Finding of No Significant Impact, which would authorize lethal removal of wolves.
Comments on the EA can be submitted by logging on to http://www.regulations.gov or by writing to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received on or before April 12.
For information, contact Shawn Sartorius, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Field Office at 406-449-5225, ext. 208.
The draft EA is available on the FWS website at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/, along with the state’s proposal, peer review and the state’s responses to the peer review.