Montana’s first wolf-hunting season came to a close at a half-hour past sunset Monday with 72 wolves taken out of the statewide quota of 75.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks closed the season when officials received word that quotas were close to full and there was the strong possibility they would be met in Wolf Management Units 1 and 2.
By Monday afternoon, 18 of the quota of 41 wolves had been taken in WMU 1 in northwestern and northern Montana. A total of 21 of the quota of 22 had been taken in WMU 2 in southwestern Montana. WMU 3 in southern Montana closed on Oct. 26 with the quota of 12 being exceeded by one wolf.
“We hit 72 of the 75 wolf quota with two weeks left before the season was originally planned to close on November 29,” said Ron Aasheim, information and education bureau chief with FWP.
“It was a successful season. We learned a bunch, and we’ll learn more as we evaluate it,” Aasheim said.
“We know where wolves were taken by county and drainage. We know sex. We know age. We’ll know whether or not the hunters were hunting intentionally for wolves, whether they were outfitted, whether they called wolves and were successful.
“We’ll know the days hunted. It’s a pretty sound information base.”
A total of 15,600 wolf licenses were sold, including 89 to nonresidents. Resident licenses cost $19. Nonresident wolf licenses cost $350.
Wolf license sales generated $325,859 for the state license fund.
“We really didn’t know what to expect in our first season in terms of sales,” he said. “That was part of our learning experience as well, measuring the acceptance of the hunt to hunters.”
More important, he said, were the lessons of sustainability of such a hunt.
“The interesting thing to me was that, when we set this season, we ran a bunch of computer models,” Aasheim said. “We plugged in management actions, hunting harvest, natural mortality, recruitment of young into the population.
“Our prediction was that, even if we took 75, we’d have 100 more wolves next year than we have now.
“We were real conservative with the hunt. We wanted to maintain a healthy wolf population.
“We said from the start that we’re doing this to learn as much as we can. Once we’re done, we’ll have some information on which to base our actions in the future.”
Fine-tuning for future seasons will begin with the state’s biennial season-setting, beginning in December.
Public comment will be provided in meetings across the state in January. Final wolf seasons will be decided for 2010 by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission in February. Quotas will be set next summer.
Against that backdrop, however, will come a lawsuit to end wolf hunting that’s expected to be heard in federal court in Missoula in 2010. A coalition of 13 groups challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting of wolves from Endangered Species Act protections.
Written briefs from all parties in the suit are expected to be completed by late January. Setting of a hearing date for oral arguments before the court will follow.
The basis of the suit is the delisting of wolves in Montana and Idaho while keeping the contiguous wolf population of Wyoming on the list.
As of Monday, Idaho hunters had taken 104 wolves of a statewide quota of 220. Two Idaho hunting zones had been closed when quotas were met. The remaining 10 zones remain open with some hunts running until Dec. 31 and others continuing to March 31, 2010.
With Montana’s mandatory hunting requirement to report wolves taken within 12 hours of when they were shot, the final tally of 72 wolves could change based on hunting success Monday.
Contact Mark Henckel at email@example.com or 657-1395.