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Yellowstone wolf 926F

Wolf 926F, known to some wolf watchers as Spitfire, was photographed on May 5, 2018, in Yellowstone Park.

The shooting of wolf 926F near Silver Gate wasn’t big news in Montana when it happened on Nov. 24. The first news report The Billings Gazette printed was published Thursday in the Montana Untamed section.

But outside the state of Montana word spread fast, sparking outrage among wolf watchers and wildlife conservationists. The death of wolf 926F — known to some Yellowstone National Park wolf fans as Spitfire – was reported by a Weather Channel meteorologist, CBS News, Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post, Jackson Hole Guide and other news organizations in the United States and abroad. The alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack had been photographed often in her relatively long life. Her mother, a wolf of more than average Yellowstone fame, also was killed years ago by a Montana hunter just outside the park boundary.

Should it matter in Montana what outsiders say about wolf management here?

To a certain degree, yes. The 12 million out-of-state visitors who fuel our state’s tourism industry are much more likely to be interested in seeing wolves in the wild than in hunting them. These visitors don’t live with the abundance of wildlife and public lands that Montanans do. The visitors want to see, hear and photograph wolves, bears, bison, elk and other critters native to Yellowstone Country. Wildlife viewing is a major draw for the 4 million recreational visitors who streamed through Yellowstone gateways this year.

In Montana, we know that living with wildlife includes costs as well as benefits. That’s why Montana has a law that allows private landowners to shoot and kill a wolf that is on their property and causing an immediate threat to humans or domestic animals.

The shooting of wolf 926F is a different story, according to the information released by Montana FWP. The department says the wolf was legally taken by a Montana hunter in a hunting district that adjoins Yellowstone’s north boundary and has a season quota of two wolves.

Wolf 926F apparently is the only one killed so far in Wolf Management Unit 316 as of Wednesday, so the hunting season continues in the Silver Gate-Cooke City area, according to the FWP website. Wolf Management Unit 313 along the park boundary by Gardiner has closed for the season because its hunt quota of two wolves was met on Nov. 27, according to FWP.

Except for one other hunting unit near Glacier National Park, there are no quotas on how many wolves may be shot in other hunting districts.

The death of wolf 926F renewed calls – from outside and inside Montana – to create a buffer zone next to Yellowstone where wolves won’t be hunted. As Montanans, we agree. The hunting units on the boundary nearest the park’s most popular wolf viewing area – the Lamar Valley – ought to be no hunting and no trapping zones.

The park now has about 80 wolves that spend all or most of their time in the park. These wolves bring Americans and foreign tourists (especially Germans) all the way to Montana and Wyoming to see these fascinating animals. The Yellowstone wolves ought to be valued for their tourist appeal.

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Since Montana started wolf hunting in 2009, 37 Yellowstone wolves have been taken by hunters and about 30 of them were taken in two hunting districts just outside the park in Montana, Gazette Outdoors Editor Brett French reported Thursday.

More wolves live outside the park in the vast landscapes of Montana. Hunting away from the park has less impact, if any, on the park packs.

Foregoing the taking of four wolves in those hunting units on Yellowstone’s boundary would not significantly decrease the opportunity for Montana hunters to shoot a wolf. Creating that buffer would not impinge on private landowners’ legal authority to shoot wolves that threaten their property.

If reducing the chance of shooting a Yellowstone wolf seems unnecessary, consider the backlash that would occur should a Montana hunter bag a park grizzly just outside the boundary. Hunting the grizzly or the wolf that has been seen, photographed and celebrated by vacationers and conservationists gives hunters a bad reputation. It would be the better part of discretion for Montana wolf management (and future grizzly management) to steer hunters to generic wolves and away from the brand-name Yellowstone National Park wolves and bears.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission should put management units 313 and 316 off limits to wolf hunting.

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