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MISSOULA — Over the past decade, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has contributed $400,000 to study wolves.

In addition to this spring’s $51,000 donation to U.S. Wildlife Services for radio collars and depredation kills in Montana, the foundation contributed $41,600 to study elk calf mortality in the Bitterroot Valley in 2012. The Missoula-based organization has underwritten a wolf predation study in Idaho’s Clearwater River Basin in 2007, elk calf recruitment measurements in Idaho’s wolf-reintroduction areas in 2003, predator-prey relationships in Wisconsin in 2003, and the impact of grizzly bears and wolves on elk in Wyoming in 1999.

The group has partnered with Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks, the state universities in Montana and Idaho, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and numerous state wildlife agencies.

“Those are significant dollars,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks state wildlife manager Quentin Kujala. “Even if it’s not a large amount, the contribution manifests support for research. It allows those projects to be completed as designed.”

Kujala said agency researchers design projects with specific management questions in mind, and then may solicit donations from outside groups to fund the effort. But the outside groups have no say in the project makeup or results, he said.

RMEF spokesman Mark Holyoake said the foundation does not lobby for particular projects, but considers them as agencies propose them.

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“We are interested in expanding the predator-ungulate relationships on the landscape, to help build the science for management purposes,” Holyoake said in an email. RMEF state chapters have a project advisory committee made up of biologists from state wildlife agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, state university wildlife professors and RMEF leadership members that decide where to offer funding on government research projects.

Montana’s 2012 wolf hunting season started for archery hunters last Saturday, and one wolf has already been killed. The general rifle season for wolves begins Oct. 15. Wolf hunting licenses cost $19 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. Hunters are allowed to take one wolf by firearm and two by trapping, or three by trapping alone. Trapping season runs from Dec. 15 to Feb. 28, 2013, and trappers must have a special certification.

Foundation President David Allen said in an email he’s “increasingly frustrated by environmental, animal rights and anti-hunting groups who tout science but contribute nothing, and often work to defy science by using emotional pleas and lawsuits to confuse wolf issues, mislead the public and make money.” He said RMEF supports managing wolf populations “like other wildlife,” including state-regulated hunting and trapping to balance and control wolf populations.

“From our perspective, they’re the only sportsman’s organization that year-in, year-out, has contributed to our elk-wolf research that’s been going on since 2005,” said Idaho Fish and Game assistant wildlife bureau chief Brad Compton. “Those dollars become a significant part of the overall project. A lot of their money goes into additional radio collar, and every radio collar you add increases the overall reliability of the project.”

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