MISSOULA — A proposal to liberalize the state’s wolf hunting season is generating both hurrahs and howls in the Bitterroot Valley.
State wildlife officials are taking public comment on a proposal to lengthen the wolf-hunting season and increase the bag limit from one to five.
The proposal would add more than two months to the wolf rifle season, which would run from Sept. 15 to March 31. The new rules would increase the bag limit from one wolf to five in a season.
Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association’s Tony Jones said the proposed season structure is similar to what that group asked for in 2010 when it was seeking a special exemption to protect elk herds in the West Fork of the Bitterroot before wolves were delisted.
“This is the type of season that we’ve been looking for since then,” Jones said. “It should get some more wolves harvested. FWP and the Legislature stepped up to the plate and are working to make the season more conducive for hunters wanting to bag a wolf.”
Last year, hunters and trappers killed 14 wolves in Ravalli County. The year before, 13 wolves were taken by sportsmen.
On Wednesday, Wolves of the Rockies’ Mark Cook said the proposed season goes too far.
“There needs to be balance,” Cook said. “What they are proposing is just way too extreme. It will allow the hunting of pregnant wolves. We don’t hunt any other animal like that.”
The Stevensville man said his organization rejected the wolf season proposal outright and asked FWP officials to sit down and discuss alternatives.
“We extended our hand to FWP,” Cook said. “To date, they haven’t reached out to us.”
Cook said his organization believes that senior FWP officials are taking advantage of changes occurring on the state wildlife commission to ramrod this proposal through.
“There is no one restraining the senior leadership of the FWP right now,” Cook said. “They’re off to the races.”
Cook advocates non-lethal measures to control wolf predation on livestock, including better animal husbandry, flaggery and better communication between community members impacted by wolves.
In the Bitterroot, Cook said that forage is beginning to recover following large wildfires in the area and the elk population appears to be making a comeback as a result.
“The Bitterroot elk study shows that wolves aren’t the main predators of elk calves,” Cook said. “Why are they hammering them like they are?”
Jones has different explanations for the recent jump in elk numbers in the southern end of the Bitterroot. He points to liberalized seasons for bears and mountain lions, as well as a large reduction in elk hunting opportunity in the area.
“It’s not like we’re picking on wolves,” Jones said. “Hunters have given up plenty of opportunity over the past few years. Across the board, hunters have probably given more than their fair share.”
Jones urged sportsmen to comment on the proposed wolf season, as well as attend the FWP commission meeting in July.
“That is going to be really important,” he said. “There will be plenty of opposition. The pro-wolf people will be there. We need to make sure that hunters are there in force.”
“If you want to see elk recover in the Bitterroot to the point where we can get our general season back, we need to make a bigger impact on predation,” Jones said. “We need to see more calves and more bulls survive to get back where we were.”
To find out more about the proposed change or to comment, people can visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov and click on “Hunting.” Comments are due by 5 p.m. June 24. People can also mail comments to FWP – Wildlife Bureau, Attn: Public Comment, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.
Montana’s wolf population is estimated to be at least 625 wolves, in 147 verified packs. There were 37 breeding pairs in the state at the end of 2012.
There were 13 documented wolf packs in the Bitterroot Valley in 2012, which was up one pack from the year before. A state wolf biologist put the total number of wolves in the Bitterroot in 2012 at 59.