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Gazette opinion: Wolf fans, foes await ruling

Gazette opinion: Wolf fans, foes await ruling

The howls over wolf management will probably never subside, and two decisions last week added fuel to the regional debate.

The five members of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission agreed to more than double the number of wolves that hunters may harvest in the 2010 hunting season. Last year’s quota was 75 wolves. Commissioners set 186 animals as the limit for the second wolf-hunting season since wolves were taken off the federal endangered-species list in Montana and Idaho. Wyoming wolves are still on the protected list.

Idaho wildlife officials will allow the use of electronic calls and traps in their wolf hunt this year. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission said last week that it hopes the changes in hunting rules will increase the harvest. Commissioners will establish quotas for Idaho’s 2010 hunt next month.

The wolf population is estimated to be around 835 in Idaho and 524 in Montana.

That’s way too many wolves for many folks. At the FWP meeting in Helena, Steve Wilson, a hunter from Victor, said the wolf population should be cut to 150 and more hunting tags should be issued to help achieve that goal. In Idaho, Rick Huddleston of St. Maries told the Spokesman-Review that cutting into wolf numbers was needed “so that people who want to put an elk in the freezer can get one.”

And on the other side of the issue, people say the hunts should not be expanded — or conducted at all.

Matt Skoglund of Livingston, with the National Resources Defense Council, told Montana wildlife officials that the viability of wolves in the Northern Rockies was being jeopardized by a hunting season that he called premature. Nancy Taylor of the North Idaho Wolf Alliance said she believes Idaho decisionmakers are cutting the wolf population “to numbers where they aren’t able to do the job they’re meant to do in nature.”

Participants in the debate now await a ruling from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. Defenders of Wildlife has filed a lawsuit seeking to restore Endangered Species Act protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana. Whatever Molloy decides, state and federal wildlife officials will need to both manage and protect the wolf population in the region.

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