Commission adjusts wolf trapping, snaring season, regulations

by angelamontana

Posted: October 29, 2021×60&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=j44DLk5ifu&p=https%3A//×60&!2&btvi=2&fsb=1&xpc=6IRudz6t4V&p=https%3A//

HELENA – Looking to minimize the possibility of non-target capture of lynx and grizzly bears, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission made some changes to wolf trapping and snaring regulations for the 2021 season at its meeting Thursday.

The changes more clearly identify occupied grizzly bear habitat and adjust season dates for wolf trapping and snaring in these areas. The default opening day in areas likely to have grizzly bears will be Dec. 31. However, this date could move earlier if the department determines most grizzly bears are denned for the winter. Outside of these areas the wolf trapping and snaring season will begin Nov. 29, the earliest date identified in state law for wolf trapping seasons.

Additionally, the commission gave the department the flexibility to adjust the opening of wolf trapping and snaring by wolf management unit (WMU), or an aggregation of WMUs, based on conditions on the ground.

The commission also closed snaring for wolves on public land within Lynx Protection Zones. These zones have long been established in Montana trapping regulations and are generally in the greater Yellowstone area and northwest Montana.

Grizzly bears and lynx in Montana are both federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

All other parts of the wolf hunting and trapping regulations approved by the commission in August remain in place. This includes the wolf harvest thresholds set by FWP administrative region and totaling 450 statewide. The thresholds are intended to allow the commission opportunity to potentially adjust regulations during the season based on wolf harvest by hunters and trappers.

The changes will be reflected in the online version of the wolf hunting and trapping regulations soon.


Crews searching for overdue hunter in Flathead County


Photo by: MTN NewsBy: MTN NewsPosted at 11:33 AM, Oct 29, 2021 and last updated 10:36 AM, Oct 29, 2021

KALISPELL — Crews in Flathead County are searching for an overdue hunter in the Hubbart Dam area.

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office received a report on Thursday evening that a 66-year-old Kalispell man had not returned to meet up with his hunting party.

Search crews worked until early this morning and will be out again Friday to continue the search, according to a social media post.

The man is described as 6’ 1” tall and weighing 200 pounds.

He was last seen wearing an orange woodland camo pattern vest, green hoodie, black stocking cap and wool pants.

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Hunters planning on being in the Hubbart Dam area should be aware a search is underway and to expect a lot of activity in the area.

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office is not be releasing the man’s name at this time. A photo of the man is also not available at this time.

Senators urge emergency protections for wolves in US West

MATTHEW BROWN, Associated PressOct. 28, 2021Updated: Oct. 28, 2021 6:48 p.m.Comments

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged the Biden administration to enact emergency protections for gray wolves in the U.S. West in response to Republican-backed state laws that make it easier to kill the predators.

Twenty-one U.S. senators led by New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Michigan’s Gary Peters asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to shield wolves from being killed for 240 days while permanent protections are considered.

With hunts in the region ongoing, a federal wildlife agency spokesperson told The Associated Press that emergency protection of wolves “remains on the table.” More

It’s been legal to hunt and trap wolves in the U.S. Northern Rockies for more than a decade after they rebounded from widespread extermination and federal endangered species protections were lifted.

But Republican elected officials in Montana and Idaho are intent on culling more wolf packs. Wolves periodically attack livestock and also prey on elk and deer herds that many hunters prize.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month launched a year-long review to determine if protections need to be restored. The move did nothing to protect wolves in the interim, and Yellowstone National Park administrators have since complained after three wolves from a pack popular with tourists were killed a fter roaming into Montana.

“If continued unabated for this hunting season, these extreme wolf eradication policies will result in the deaths of hundreds of gray wolves,” the Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to Haaland. “The Department of Interior can prevent these senseless killings.”

The letter was signed by senators including from California and Nevada in the West, but no Northern Rockies lawmakers.

Federal officials under former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump defended the 2011 decision to take wolves off the endangered list, pointing to wolf populations that remained strong despite hunting. There are more than 3,000 wolves in the region, including an estimated 1,500 in Idaho and 1,200 in Montana.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines suggested the Democrats pressuring Haaland should “study the data.”

“Then they might know the gray wolf is thriving under state-led management,” Daines said. “We should use our limited resources to protect species actually endangered.”

Native American groups and environmentalists have also requested emergency listing of wolves as an endangered species.

Federal officials said in response that temporary protections can’t be enacted through the legal petitions they received from the groups. However, the Endangered Species Act gives Haaland authority to do so if she determines there’s a significant threat to a species.

“Emergency listing remains on the table, if the Service sees circumstances develop that would lead us to apply that authority,” Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs chief Karen Armstrong said in an email.

Thirty-six wolves have been killed in Montana since the current hunting and trapping season opened last month, according to state harvest data. While it’s still early in the season, that’s not out of line with past years, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon.

“We’ve had years where we’ve been over that number at this point in the season, and years where we’ve been less than this,” Lemon said.

Over 320 wolves were harvested during Montana’s 2020 hunting season — significantly more than the preceding eight-year average of 242 wolves per year, according to officials. That was before Gov. Greg Gianforte signed legislation that allowed wildlife commissioners to legalize wolf killing methods previously outlawed, including snaring, baiting and night hunting.

A new law in Idaho eased wolf hunting restrictions to allow using night-vision equipment with a permit, using bait and dogs, and allowing hunting from motor vehicles.

Hunters and trappers reported killing 89 wolves through Monday in Idaho. That’s down from the same point last year but likely to rise because hunters and trappers have 10 days to report a wolf kill, said Idaho Fish and Game spokesperson Roger Phillips.

To protect wolves around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, wildlife advocacy groups on Wednesday asked federal officials to impose a 5-mile (8-kilometer) buffer zone near park boundaries where wolves could not be hunted.

Western Montana teenager dies in accidental shooting


HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A teenager from the western Montana town of Victor was killed in an accidental shooting when a firearm being handled by a friend discharged, Ravalli County officials said Thursday.

The two teenagers had been hunting together over the weekend. On Monday they were at a residence near Pinedale when one of the teens was handling a pistol that fired, Sheriff Steve Holton said.

The Victor teenager died at the scene. The teen was not identified.

“We have no reason to believe that it was anything other than a tragic accident,” Holton told the Ravalli Republic. “It is a tragic reminder that people should always follow the basic firearm safety rules. Treat every weapon like it is loaded. Never point a firearm in anyone’s direction and know what’s in front of the muzzle.”

Three Yellowstone wolves killed in Montana during first week of Montana’s hunting season

By Nick KuzmaPublished: Sep. 27, 2021 at 2:59 PM PDT

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. (RELEASE) – Yellowstone National Park wolf biologists report that the park’s Junction Butte Pack (27 wolves) lost three wolves to Montana hunters during the first week of Montana’s wolf hunting season. The Junction Butte Pack transcends Yellowstone’s northern range and is the most viewed wolf pack in the world.

Multiple recent overflights conducted by the park confirmed the pack size has been reduced from 27 to 24 animals, losing two female pups and one female yearling. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) confirms three wolves were killed outside of Yellowstone in the general vicinity of where the Junction Butte Pack was traveling in mid-September.

Yellowstone wolves in the northern range spend an estimated 5% of the time outside the park, usually in late fall. For over a decade, the state of Montana limited the number of wolves taken from Montana wolf management units 313 (Gardiner) and 316 (Cooke City), which are immediately adjacent to the park’s northern boundary. Ninety-eight percent of wolves in Montana are outside units 313 and 316. Recent state changes to hunting and trapping have lifted restrictions within these units making Yellowstone’s wolf population in the northern range extremely vulnerable. Montana has also authorized baiting from private property. Over 33% of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within one mile of private property where baiting is now permissible.

“Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.”ADVERTISEMENT

Visitor spending within communities that are 50 miles from Yellowstone exceeds $500 million per year, tens of millions of which is spent by visitors coming to watch wolves and supporting Montana businesses in gateway communities.

The Junction Butte Pack formed in 2012 in the northern section of the park. They are the most observed pack in Yellowstone because they den within view of the Northeast Entrance Road and the road to Slough Creek Campground, providing thousands of visitor’s daily views. The pack had eight pups in 2021.

Stop the Senseless Slaughter

States across the country have expanded controversial predator control programs in contradiction to federal goals of species protection. States are permitting or encouraging trophy hunting and hunting and trapping of predators, particularly wolves, without regard for sustainable levels. States are authorizing practices like baiting and snaring of bears, “judas” wolf collaring, use of dogs to hunt predators, shooting bears and their cubs in dens, shooting wolves and pups at dens, aerial spotting/land-and-shoot, and nighttime hunting with artificial lights.

State game programs are supported by federal funds collected under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act — the total amount of funding transferred to states in FY2021 was $678,894,449. Please join us in submitting a rulemaking petition to the Secretary of the Interior demanding that the eligibility of these states be subject to public comment and review as to whether their game programs are consistent with federal conservation policy.

This review will ensure that state wildlife management is consistent with the goals of sound conservation policy and maintaining healthy and naturally diverse wildlife populations, including predators, as required under Pittman-Robertson – requirements not heretofore enforced.

On a wide variety of issues, eligibility for federal funding is used as a way to leverage states to comply with federal policies. For example, federal Highway Trust Funds have been restricted in states that failed to comply with the national drinking age or establish speed limits. Similarly, we are urging that the Secretary of Interior withhold federal funds from states that undermine national wildlife protection policies.


SEPTEMBER 24, 2021

gray wolf

End Federal Subsidies for States’ War on Wolves
Move to Disqualify States from Federal Aid for Excessive Predator Removal

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End Federal Subsidies for States’ War on Wolves

Beefalo hybrid of cattle and bison

Dear Secretary Haaland,

I am writing to urge you to adopt regulations disqualifying states from receiving grants under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act if they allow hunting or trapping at levels that compromise healthy populations of wildlife, including predators, particularly grey wolves.

Pittman-Robertson currently requires states to maintain healthy populations of all species of native wildlife, but those requirements should be enforced. Federal dollars should not subsidize states that pursue practices such as baiting and snaring of bears, “judas” wolf collaring, use of dogs to hunt predators, shooting bears and their cubs in dens, shooting wolves and pups at dens, aerial spotting/land-and-shoot, and nighttime hunting with artificial lights.

Again, I urge you to take action that does not reward any state whose management practices are inconsistent with the national goal of naturally diverse wildlife populations and healthy predator-prey dynamics.SIGN THE PETITION

Proposed Rule Language

  • Reinforce current statutory requirements that states receiving federal funds are not compromising “healthy populations of wildlife,” impinging upon the “unmet needs for a diverse array of wildlife and associated habitats,” and are “giving appropriate consideration to all wildlife.”
  • Establish a mandatory public comment period on state eligibility before distributing Acts funds in order to allow stakeholders, especially those who have been traditionally marginalized (including Tribes, subsistence users, tourism and watchable wildlife interests, independent scientists, and the conservation community), to be  heard as part of the Pittman-Robertson funding process. This open process will facilitate transparency and accountability in the distribution of Acts funds.
  • Enable the Secretary to consider impacts of new state legislation and management practices, as well as new population numbers, developing science, and public input in making an eligibility determination and distributing funds to the states.

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Petition: End Federal Subsidies for States’ War on Wolves

End Federal Subsidies for States’ War on Wolves


Dear Interior Secretary Deb Haaland:

I am writing to urge you to adopt regulations disqualifying states from receiving grants under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act if they allow hunting or trapping at levels that compromise healthy populations of wildlife, including predators, particularly grey wolves. 

Pittman-Robertson currently requires states to maintain healthy populations of all species of native wildlife, but those requirements should be enforced. Federal dollars should not subsidize states that pursue practices such as baiting and snaring of bears and wolves, “judas” wolf collaring, use of dogs to hunt predators, shooting bears and their cubs in dens, shooting wolves and pups at dens, aerial spotting/land-and-shoot, and nighttime hunting with artificial lights.

Again, I urge you to take action that does not reward any state whose management practices are inconsistent with the national goal of naturally diverse wildlife populations and healthy predator-prey dynamics.

Thank you.

If you want to learn more, see the wolf treaty or the rulemaking petition.

Montana Defiantly Puts Yellowstone Wolves In Its Crosshairs


by Todd WilkinsonSUPPORT USGET NEWSLETTERPhoto by Jacob W. Frank/NPS; graphic element added by Gus O’Keefe
By Todd Wilkinson
For the first autumn in 27 years, the most famous population of wild wolves in the world has essentially no protection when members of its packs wander across the invisible boundary of Yellowstone National Park into Montana. 
Montana’s controversial new wolf management laws, designed to reduce wolf numbers in the state to the lowest level they can be without triggering a return to federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, come into sharpest focus perhaps on the northern edge of America’s first national park.
Any wolf that lives most of its life in Yellowstone and crosses the boundary into Montana can be killed beginning this month. Especially vulnerable are members of the renowned Junction Butte Pack that has enthralled millions of wolf watchers in the vicinity of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley over the years. Ironic, scientists say, is that the very tolerance wolves have developed toward people within the sanctuary of Yellowstone could lead to their easy demise for hunters in Montana waiting to draw them within view of a rifle scope. 
Normally, the total allowable annual wolf quota for hunters and trappers to kill wolves in a pair of hunting districts bordering Yellowstone—district 313 near Gardiner and 316 near Cooke City—is one in each district. But under new regulations now in place, the quotas no longer exist and an unlimited number of wolves can be shot or trapped using baits on private property and spotlights to stalk them at night. Similarly, quotas have been dropped in hunting districts bordering Glacier National Park in the northern part of the state near the US-Canada border.
The new law allows for an individual hunter or trapper to kill up to 10 wolves apiece. Although it’s not likely to happen, just half a dozen hunters and trappers, could, if enough Yellowstone wolves trotted into Montana, bag their legal limit and reduce the park wolf population by 50 percent. Even if they netted only a percentage of that, it could cause mayhem in the social pack structures of Yellowstone lobos, scientists say.
A bumper sticker often seen on pickups in rural areas of the Northern Rockies“Montana is hellbent on erasing one of the greatest wildlife conservation success stories in the history of this country and its liberalized wolf-killing policies allowed to exist literally on the doorstep of Yellowstone are a disgrace,” says former Yellowstone Superintendent Michael V. Finley. “What this does is put wolves, which people come from around the world to see in Yellowstone—and I should note spend money in Montana—in peril. It’s not only wanton waste and morally and ethically reprehensible but it could also destroy decades of valuable scientific research into these animals.”
Outrage to the state wolf-killing policies put in place this year focusses not just on Montana, but has also been directed to Idaho and the Midwestern state of Wisconsin. It has hastened calls from environmentalists, prominent independent scientists, nature-tourism operators and citizens to have US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland use her power to immediately “relist” wolves, i.e. put them back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. 
Haaland, as President Joe Biden’s top public land manager who oversees national parks, has so far not intervened. Moreover, the Biden Administration has refused to halt plans put in place by the Trump Administration to remove all federal protections for wolves across the Lower 48.
However, the former national director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which orchestrated wolf recovery in the Lower 48, says that urgent action is needed. Dan Ashe told Mountain Journal what he also echoed in an opinion piece he wrote for The Washington Post, that laws in Montana and Idaho represent a grave threat to the biological integrity of the species’ recovery.  “This is not wildlife management,” he said. “it’s ecocide.” 
° ° ° °
Wolves by the middle of the 19th century  were annihilated from most of the Lower 48. Even in Yellowstone the government aided trappers in achieving total extermination of wolves in the park during the 1920s. Some 31 wolves, captured in Canada, were reintroduced to Yellowstone and 35 to wilderness areas in Idaho during the winters of 1995 and 1996. Since then their numbers have grown and they have expanded their range, with wolves recolonizing Washington State, Oregon and California following an absence of more than 50 years. It’s been called one of the greatest wildlife conservation success stories in history and a model for other countries.
A growing chorus of wildlife advocates say that triumph is on the cusp of being reversed.
The new wolf-control codes in both Montana and neighboring Idaho allow for use of neck-squeezing snares to catch wolves and strangle them to death. Snare use is forbidden within federal grizzly bear recovery zones in both states because grizzlies still are federally protected. However, beyond those relatively small zones, snaring is allowed on both public and private land. In addition to snaring, which is outlawed in many states because of lethal threats posed to non-target species, including pet dogs and imperiled animals such as wolverines and Canada lynx, Montana and Idaho also allow for controversial wolf baiting, that is banned in many states because it is considered a violation of fair-chase hunting practices. And wolf hunters can use bright spotlights, using a technique known as “shining,” to hunt lobos at night on private land with use of high-tech insert-red goggles and scopes.  Again, shining is banned in most states.
The general wolf hunting season in Montana commences Sept. 15 and the trapping season begins on Nov. 29 but will be delayed in grizzly bear recovery zones until December when bears den. Both season run through March 15, 2022.  
The main instigators of anti-wolf bills in Montana were Paul Fielder, a member of the Montana House of Representatives and Sen. Bob Brown. Both are from Thompson Falls located in the far northwestern corner of the state. Fielder is husband to former state senator Jennifer Fielder who won a seat on the Montana Public Service Commission in the November 2020 election. Mrs. Fielder is best known for her radical views, including promoting the idea that federal lands ought to be transferred into state management. 
The Fielders are close friends of Thompson Falls realtor Glenn Schenaver, affiliated with the Foundation for Wildlife Management formed with a singular mission of lethally controlling wolves. Foundation for Wildlife Management created an expensive reimbursement fund in Idaho that covers the costs of hunters and trappers who kill wolves. Critics have called it a de-facto bounty program. Sen. Brown drafted a bill that authorizes a reimbursement program in Montana nearly identical to Idaho’s; it passed and Gianforte signed it into law.A photo of the famous Junction Butte Pack in Yellowstone, one of the most watched and beloved by visitors in Yellowstone National Park. And a pack, experts say, that would be extremely vulnerable to hunters and trappers since members often wander to and fro across the park boundary into Montana. Photo courtesy Neal Herbert/NPS with graphic additions by Gus O’KeefePatrick Flowers, a state senator, served for several years as the regional director for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks in the southwest corner of the state that surrounds Bozeman and abuts Yellowstone. He says the legislature has created problems—and lit a controversy—that didn’t need to happen. 
“There was an argument made about impacts on big game populations in northwest Montana. If you accept the premise, and I don’t, then you would think the logical strategy would be to address it in northwest Montana,” he said. “But the bills they passed didn’t do that. It is overreaching and seeks to reduce wolf populations across the state. When it comes to a place like Yellowstone, I don’t see a need for what is being prescribed.” (MoJo readers can peruse the state’s autumn 2021 big game hunting forecast by clicking here).
Flowers says it seems the clear intent was to carry the agenda of Foundation for Wildlife Management and other anti-wolf groups. He witnessed firsthand when Montana and Fish Wildlife and Parks took a beating in the national media after it enlisted hunters in the 1990s to be participants in gunning down of Yellowstone bison coming into the state. Eventually, management over bison got stripped away from Fish Wildlife and Parks and was handed over to the Department of Agriculture, which continues to falsely claim that bison represent the eminent risk of passing the disease brucellosis to domestic cattle herds in the state. In fact a study by the National Academies of Sciences resoundingly refutes it, saying that elk represent the primary threat in wildlife to livestock disease transmission. 
° ° ° 
At a contentious Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in July, an incredulous Patrick Byorth demanded to see evidence from his colleagues to justify what they were pushing through. They produced little.“It appeared that they knew what was going to happen before the meeting even started. I asked if they had a pre-meeting without me being present and one of them said they had been getting together two or three at a time to decide what they were going to do,” Byorth told Mountain Journal
Byorth is an attorney in Bozeman, former fisheries biologist with Fish Wildlife and Parks and a senior staffer with Trout Unlimited in Montana. He is the only sitting commissioner not appointed by Gianforte and by dint of a fluke had his appointed term carry over from the previous administration of Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.  He and fellow commissioner K.C. Walsh, a Gianforte appointee and best known for being the owner of Simms Fishing Products, an international manufacturer of high quality fishing waders, both voted against adopting the controversial new approaches to wolf management, citing concerns about their ethics, but lost in a 3-2 vote.
“We’ve got people in northwest Montana who hate wolves and now the legislature and the governor have pandered to them. They say, ‘Now that we’re killing the heck out of wolves there’s going to miraculously be so many elk you can shoot them right off the road.’ Well, elk biology is more complicated than that. One of the big drivers is declining habitat. I would note that if you look at the numbers, the elk population is actually fairly stable in Region 1,” Byorth said. 
Baiting wildlife, hunting animals at night when they are more vulnerable using shining and infrared goggles, and promoting indiscriminate killing with snares. All of these are things that the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt, in the past has identified as being inconsistent with the ethics of fair chase, he noted.  Boone & Crockett defines fair chase as “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the game animals.”

Fair chase is “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the game animals.” —Boone & Crockett Club

Where does that get murky? The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has restricted putting out bait and salt for deer and elk and in a statement about baiting said:”this type of hunting clearly violates fair chase ethics because it takes advantage of an unnatural condition created by the hunter. Pursuing an animal in its natural environment and overcoming its senses is referred to as fair chase. This concept is the basis for many fish and game laws.” Yet Idaho allows baiting of both wolves and black bears, which also causes animals to get hooked on unnatural human foods often used. Byorth also pointed to the widely-condemned practiced of spotlighting, or shining, wolves at night. 
“I’d like Mountain Journal readers to think about something. If a rancher is driving across his or her land and sees a spotlight, will they think it’s someone out poaching and then call the game warden? It used to be easy to identify the bad guys because night shining of wildlife was illegal but these new wolf laws have opened a can of worms,” Byorth said. “The state has given license to a notorious poaching technique that will make it much harder for game wardens to protect wildlife.”

The late legendary Montana sportsman Jim Posewitz, who published a book, Beyond Fair Chase, about hunting ethics given free to every young person going through hunter safety, warned before his death that society was in a backslide—and that the honorable tradition of hunting isn’t an activity captive to the interests of any one partisan ideology
In their rhetoric, Fielder and others often speak with ambiguity about ethics. And they present not only wildly embellished assertions about the impacts of wolves on big game and livestock but they misinterpret—and thereby misrepresent—the arguments surrounding what biological recovery of a species means.
During the 1990s, population thresholds set by the US  Fish and Wildlife Service as the lowest yardstick to achieve biological recovery was 150 wolves embodying 15 different packs in each of the three Northern Rockies states. An important nuance is that the figure was never intended to be a total population target in each state, but a bare minimum allowing removing of the species from federal protection. A cartoon by artist John Potter that appeared shortly after it was announced that Gov. Gianforte had trapped and shot a Yellowstone wolf that roamed beyond the park into Paradise Valley, Montana. Of note is that Potter was present in 1995 and oversaw traditional indigenous prayer ceremony welcoming wolves back to the park after a 60-year absence.“That’s different from having a robust, healthy, self-sustaining macro-population of wolves that is the very definition of recovery under the law,” says Mike Phillips, a career biologist who oversaw reintroduction in Yellowstone and today serves as a director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. Phillips also served two decades as an elected member of both the Montana state senate and house. 
In recent years, rough estimates have been of around 2,000 wolves in the three Northern Rockies states and while that number is a lot compared to almost zero in the 1990s, the telltale gauge is impact on big game, domestic livestock and rancher and hunting guide livelihoods. In every one of those categories, wolf impacts overall have been nominal and where there have been impacts, especially to ranchers, wolves often have been dealt with swiftly and lethally. Far more wolves have been destroyed than the number of livestock they’ve preyed upon.
Phillips says wolf recovery has, all in all, been an undeniable success but what it hasn’t overcome is age-old biases brought to this continent by Europeans.
“Let’s all of us step forward and take a bow and celebrate that by coming together in a spirit of cooperation we made it happen. What we’ve had in the Northern Rockies with wolves is a success. The federal government and the states had done an excellent job of managing wolves and being very aggressive in taking action to reduce conflicts with livestock. It was working well. And I should also note, hundreds of wolves have been killed by hunters, trappers and to resolve potential conflicts in Montana and Idaho each year,” he added. “All of the worst-case scenarios that ranchers and hunters claimed would happen with cattle, sheep and big game haven’t happened. The stories spun by legislators in Idaho and Montana are myths.”
Phillips says there’s no professional wildlife management entity in the world that would argue the goal of recovering a species is to keep populations of that animal or plant suppressed to their lowest acceptable minimums, as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have done. Having more of a recovered species improves the prospects of their survival, their ecological resiliency and, most of all, does not represent an overwhelming burden on people who share the landscape with them. “Imagine,” he said, “if we applied this logic to bald eagles and set out shooting them to keep their populations at their lowest legal levels possible because eagles might be killing somebody’s lambs or taking fish from somebody’s backyard trout ponds.”
Norman Bishop, who spent his career as a scientific interpreter for the National Park Service and attended hundreds of public meetings presenting facts about wolves, wrote an essay in Mountain Journal titled 25 Years of Re-living With Wolves in Yellowstone and in it he addresses what he calls “distortions of truth” relating to wolves, livestock depredation, elk numbers, and hunting success rates in the Northern Rockies. Mountain Journal has fact-checked Bishop’s numbers and, objectively, it can be stated they convincingly refute the arguments Fielder and others made to move their legislation through the Montana house and senate to the desk of Gov. Gianforte. 
Worth mentioning is that during the winter of 2021 Gov. Gianforte trapped and killed a radio-collared wolf in Paradise Valley, Montana that was part of ongoing research in Yellowstone and had wandered outside the park. Gianforte also has a reputation for exaggerating natural history. 
Not long ago, Gianforte mentioned to a colleague that a citizen from Gardiner, Montana—the oldest gateway town to Yellowstone— told him three dozen wolves had passed across the person’s property and that lobos were out of control and needed to be managed also to protect people and pets. Readers who may take the governor’s remark at face value need to realize that such an incident has never happened—though there is the threat is real that over time  dozens of wolves could die the moment they pass over Yellowstone’s invisible boundary into Montana is real. For years, reports have circulated in saloons about residents of the Gardiner Valley and Upper Yellowstone River Valley near the national proudly poaching wolves and specifically targeting lobos with radio collars. This rare 12-year-old white female wolf, member of Yellowstone’s Canyon Pack, was shot in 2017 and wounded by a poacher. After park officials reached her, she was in shock and had to be euthanized because of the severity of the wound. Today there remains a huge reward waiting for anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poacher. Photo courtesy Neal Herbert/NPSIn response to Montana’s wolf-reduction laws, the state received 26,000 comments, 90 percent of which opposed the new liberalized killing policies. Of the1,000 or so comments submitted by residents of Montana, more than half were against what the state is implementing. (MoJo readers can peruse them all by clicking here).
Gianforte has told colleagues that he doesn’t care if out of staters are upset about his wolf policies because he only cares what Montanans think—and he is convinced that they don’t like wolves.
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Millions of people around the world, of all ages, consider themselves to be Yellowstone wolf groupies, and their faithful are as devoted park advocates as any he has seen, says Yellowstone Supt. Cam Sholly. He’s disappointed with how recent events have transpired.
Sholly noted that he enjoys and works hard at maintaining a courteous relationship with not only Gianforte but the other two governors from Yellowstone border states. “Greg and I have an open an honest relationship and I have directly engaged with him over the past weeks to determine how we may work together to mitigate impacts of recent statewide wolf hunting and trapping changes on the Yellowstone wolf population,” he explained
Never once was he or any members of his resource staff contacted by Fish Wildlife and Parks to warn them of what was coming. Sholly admits to being caught off guard when he learned that soon it will be legal for all wolves moving from Yellowstone into Montana to be killed.  He reached out to Gianforte, he said, and has expressed a number of concerns. Chief among them is getting wolf-kill quotas restored in hunting districts 313 and 316. 
“This isn’t me trying to tell Montana how they should manage wildlife. And this doesn’t have to be a state versus federal government issue. Ultimately, the wildlife management decisions we make in Yellowstone can affect Montana, Wyoming and Idaho,” he said.   “Dialogue and collaboration are essential if we’re going to succeed in achieving transboundary wildlife conservation objectives, whether that be with wolves, grizzlies, bison, elk or any other species that transcends the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”
Regarding Montana’s maneuverings on wolves without consulting Yellowstone, he drew an analogy to differences of opinions that exist for how Yellowstone ought to deal with record-shattering visitation and crowding issues. Yellowstone does not exist in isolation from the three states that portions of the national park covers and neither does what the three states do not impact the ecological integrity of America’s first national park.
“While Yellowstone is responsible for managing visitation in the park, we wouldn’t make unilateral decisions on capping visitation, as an example, without thoughtful engagement with partners, including states,” Sholly said. “We understand that decisions we make have major impacts on local communities, counties, and state economies. Similarly, wildlife management decisions, at least as they pertain to the Greater Yellowstone, should be made with recognition and acknowledgement of potential cross boundary impacts.”  Yellowstone Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. Photo courtesy Jacob W. Frank/NPSWith Yellowstone approaching its 150th birthday in 2020, it’s a perfect time, he says, to reflect on how thoughtless human behavior nearly exterminated a number of species, including eradicating wolves inside the park itself. Yellowstone also provided sanctuary to two dozen bison that survived the slaughter of tens of millions, the descendants today considered holy to indigenous people. And it wasn’t so long ago that grizzlies begged for food and went dumpster diving because human ignorance set the stage for it to happen. 

“We’ve come a long way over the past four decades at putting the pieces back together after some of the worst wildlife conservation decision making in our country’s history. And whether your focus is conservation, recreation, economics, or other beneficial assets of Greater Yellowstone, it’s in our mutual interests to make decisions that strengthen, not weaken, this ecosystem,” Sholly said. “If there is one thing we’ve learned over the past century it’s that major impacts to one species in this ecosystem can have wide ranging effects on many other aspects of the ecosystem.” 

“If there is one thing we’ve learned over the past century it’s that major impacts to one species in this ecosystem can have wide ranging effects on many other aspects of the ecosystem.” —Yellowstone Supt. Cam Sholly

While not critiquing the statewide wolf reduction strategy in Montana he did say Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks did not use the best available data, science and information to fully assess the negative impact on Yellowstone. “Lifting quotas in these units, allowing baiting, which could lure wolves out of the park, is reckless and potentially poses a serious threat to wolves in Yellowstone’s northern range,” he said, noting that he asked Gianforte to re-evaluate and modify how wolves are allowed to be destroyed. “Fish Wildlife and Parks don’t have any idea how many wolves are in hunting districts 313 and 316, so how can it sanction unlimited harvest?”
Another issue of contention involves baiting. Sholly has told Gianforte that it’s problematic for a number of reasons, including drawing in grizzlies, habituating animals and it goes against the lessons being taught to millions of people about responsible food storage. The governor replied to Sholly saying baiting is allowed only on private land. About 3.2 percent of Yellowstone that falls within Montana fronts private land. However, Sholly noted, 33.5 percent of terrain found at the transboundary intersection of Yellowstone and Montana resides within a mile of private land, meaning that baiting could easily lure animals out of the park.

“Lifting quotas in these units, allowing baiting, which could lure wolves out of the park, is reckless and potentially poses a serious threat to wolves in Yellowstone’s northern range.”  —Cam Sholly.

Montana’s aggressive strategy to kill Yellowstone wolves does not benefit the state and it has reportedly caused consternation from Wyoming. Knocking down Yellowstone’s wolf population does not advance the state’s goal of lowering the number of wolves overall in Montana because technically park lobos are considered part of Wyoming’ total wolf count.
Moreover, wolves in some ways could be construed as allies to Montana ranchers concerned about wandering Yellowstone bison.  Sholly pointed out that Montana livestock officials have long complained of too many bison being in Yellowstone. He noted that wolves have begun preying on bison with increasing regularity—so much so that in recent years bison comprise 40 percent of a park wolf’s winter diet. 
Montana’s governor has never allowed himself to be be questioned about how how his portrayals of wolf impacts does not align with scientific and economic data. A call was made to Gianforte’s office by Mountain Journal to request an interview with the governor, but it went unanswered. A call was placed to Fish Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech and was steered instead to department spokesman Greg Lemon.
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Naturalist Rick McIntyre, who has spent more time watching Yellowstone wolves than any other living person, spent decades explaining wolf behavior to visitors for the Park Service and in recent years has won awards and acclaim for three books that chronicle the natural history dramas that play out within packs and between rivals. 
McIntrye said a primary concern is the welfare of the Junction Butte Pack which every spring for years has denned in Slough Creek, with excellent wolf watching available from the campground road. “You routinely see adults and pups there, the whole pack taking part, playing and interacting. It might be a mother nursing her pups or a father wolf bringing in food,” he explained. “There could easily be several hundred people hoping to catch a glimpse. It would be hard to imagine a wildlife viewing opportunity anywhere in the world as spectacular as that.”
Wolf watching is an emotional experience for many, an activity that is a highlight of their lives. “We’ve had people in wheelchairs, people dying of cancer and wanting to see it just once and a woman with traumatic brain injury that described it as one of the greatest moments she ever had,” McIntrye said. 
Slough Creek isn’t far from the northern border of the park and when wolves set out on the move in winter, sometimes trailing elk and bison, they can cover the couple of mile distance between safety in Yellowstone and danger in Montana in an hour.  In 2020, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission lowered the quota for wolf kills in hunting districts adjacent the park  to just one from two. 
Perhaps surprising to some is that McIntyre doesn’t blanch at the possibility of some wolves, a small number, being hunted. Especially perilous for wandering wolves are areas near Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana. The state has removed quotas for wolf hunting and trapping in two hunting districts located in those locales. Two years ago the quota was two wolves apiece in each district. That was reduced to a one-wolf quota last year. Now, as a result of new laws, the quota is gone, meaning there is no limit to how many can be shot or trapped when they cross out of the park into the state.“I was around here before the reintroduction and part of the deal was that if wolves were brought back then at some point, after delisting occurred, there would be some level of hunting and trapping. I have no problem in keeping that deal so long as there is a limit,” he said, noting that a few years back the quota was 12 wolves in district 313 but it got scaled back, pared down to two in 2019 and one last year. 
One famous Gardiner, Montana-based hunting outfitter, Hell’s A Roarin’ Outfitters, owned by Warren and Sue Johnson, boasts that satisfied clients have returned for decades—ostensibly pleased to have taken elk. On Hell’s A Roarin’s website, it reads: “We live and hunt just North of Yellowstone National Park. Many outfitters come here to fill their personal tags! We have been in business for over 30 years and our clients from my first year are still returning, year after year, My hunters have taken close to 2,000 bull elk along with numerous deer, bear, goat, moose, mountain lion, buffalo and sheep with Hell’s A-Roarin’. Remember, the rewards of choosing quality and excellence are not to be underestimated!”
That would suggest wolves do not, and have not represented a major threat to their business which spans private and public land. Guided hunts outside the park have been a significant contributor to the local economy and Yellowstone, as a vital provider of habitat for wildlife, has been a kind neighbor.
Not long ago, McIntyre built upon a calculation of the value of wolf watching as a driver for economic activity, originally calculated two decades ago and estimated at tens of millions of dollars.  Amid record visitation, the popularity of guided wolf watching tours and interest that has gone global, he and others pen the annual sustained value of between $60 million and $70 million annually. It dwarfs the amount of money generated through elk hunting and livestock production in the Gardiner Basin/ Upper Yellowstone Valley.
The mystique of seeing wolves is also part of a nature-tourism industry that annually generates about $1.5 billion in economic activity for the tri-state region and 15,000 jobs from just tourism to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks alone. The top three attractions to wolves and bears with Old Faithful Geyser in third place. 
Like McIntyre, Supt. Sholly says the special, delicate opportunity that has evolved with Yellowstone wolves needs to be safeguarded and he worries about it being shattered by those outside the park who have not considered the consequences. “While wolves have remained extremely wild in Yellowstone, those on the northern range are tolerant to people watching them from a distance, making them extremely vulnerable when they leave the park,” he said. “On one side of the boundary they’re being watched through a spotting scope and on the other side, they’re being watched through a rifle scope.   
If a pack like Junction Butte were to move together, it could be wiped out, dramatically depleted or leaving wounded animals in a single afternoon.
Nathan Varley, who operates Yellowstone Wolf Tracker with his wife, Linda Thurston, and few employees, says there’s been a palpable worry about not only the future of wolves but the impact it could have on companies like his. “Were you to string together a number of years with a heavy harvest I would see there being significant consequences,” he explained. “Plus, if wolf packs get shot at they get averse to making themselves visually available for viewing. Having a hunted wolf population does not make for a good watchable population. Hunted wolves, if they see you from a half mile away they will leave.”

Every wolf in Yellowstone is exponentially worth more alive than dead economically and will provide thrills for thousands, year after year, as opposed to a single hunter or trapper who can kill eight wolves and be left disappointed that they didn’t fill their full 10-wolf quota. Do the math, analyze the contrast and decide where your personal values come down. —Yellowstone wolf watching guide Nathan Varley

The son of Yellowstone’s former chief scientist John Varley and the park’s former visitor service’s director, Anita Varley, Nathan and his wife were among a sizeable number of Montanans who submitted comments to the Fish Wildlife and Parks and said it appears the wildlife commissioners didn’t even read them. “I’m not sure those who voted to end the quotas realize how special this is,” he noted. “After the commission made its vote, it felt like we had gone backward a dozen years with our advocacy work. All of the progress erased based on people with negative biases toward wolves that have little to do with fact.”
Every wolf in Yellowstone is exponentially worth more alive than dead economically and will provide thrills for thousands, year after year, as opposed to a single hunter or trapper who can kill eight  wolves and be left disappointed that they didn’t fill their full 10-wolf quota, Varley says. He encourages Mountain Journal readers to do the math, analyze the contrast and decide where their personal values come down.
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When he oversaw the Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe put faith in the state’s commitment to manage wolves with honor and decency.  He said the tenor of politics in the Northern Rockies has radically changed and he recalls the deals struck with Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to move delisting of wolves forward. “Back when Virgil Moore was running Idaho Fish and Game, he had to respond to the state fish and game commission which was responding to citizens saying things about wolves that were at best, false,” Ashe recalls. “He and I would get together and talk about the need to have safeguards in place to protect the biological integrity of the wolf population and he would say, ‘You are making my life very difficult.’ To his credit, he maintained a balance and he believed in science. He also got fired. Well, maybe he was ready to retire, or maybe he was strongly encouraged to retire.”
Ashe says the semblance of balance has evaporated in Idaho and Montana. “What has happened in Idaho and is on the cusp of happening in Montana appears to be a violation of the agreement those states struck with the Fish and Wildlife Service to get wolves delisted,” Ashe says. “States are not operating according to the promise they would professionally manage wolves as trophy game animals or even with the respect given to regular game animals. Instead, wolves are being treated as vermin and there’s been a complete deterioration of the stands of wildlife management those states pledged to uphold.”
Ashe added, “It’s the same thing in Wisconsin. This isn’t about wolves. It’s just politics. People want to be mad at the federal government and wolves have become their abused dog to kick and they are kicking it hard.”  In 2021, hunters in Wisconsin exceeded established wolf quotas by 83 percent before the state had to abruptly shut down the season and a study shows that wolf poaching appears to be a serious problem.
With regard to Wyoming, Ashe used to defend the fact that Wyoming today legally classifies wolves over 85 percent of the state as a “predator” which is a euphemism for vermin. Outside of the small northwest corner of Wyoming where Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks reside and where wolf hunting is not allowed inside them, Wyoming allows wolves to be killed at any hour of the day, any day of the year, and by virtually any means, except for dispensing outlawed poisons. Wolves can be deliberately run over with an ATV or have gas poured into dens with mother wolves and her pups inside and then set alight. 

Apart from new controversial laws in Montana and Idaho that would allow the killing of most wolves in those states, Wisconsin allows wolves to be chased by dogs and provides compensation if dogs get killed by wolves. In Wyoming, wolves can be killed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in about 85 percent of the state using almost any killing means available. Pups can even be killed in their dens.

In the history of the Endangered Species Act, no animal that Americans have invested in its biological recovery has been allowed to be treated that way after its management is relinquished from the federal government and given back to a state. “If I have a regret, it’s that we didn’t insist that Wyoming treat wolves as a game animal across the entire state,” Ashe said.  This isn’t the first time that Ashe re-considered his support for state wildlife agencies and formerly defending them by saying they were up to the task of professionally managing species.
A few years ago, he called out Alaska after the state approved the shooting of grizzly bears over bait, killing mother bears and their cubs, gunning bears and wolves from planes and even killing wolves and pups in their dens. It’s worth noting that during his tenure at the Fish and Wildlife Service, Mr. Ashe did allow Wyoming, as part of the agreement that gave wolf management back to the state, to enact a policy that allows what he condemned above to happen with wolves in over 85 percent of the state.   
“Over the past several years, the Alaska Board of Game has unleashed a withering attack on bears and wolves that is wholly at odds with America’s long tradition of ethical, sportsmanlike, fair-chase hunting,” Ashe wrote. “We have a long history of cooperative management with the states, including Alaska, and we have deep respect and admiration for our state agency professional colleagues. But there comes a time when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must stand up for the authorities and principles that underpin our work and say ‘no.’”
A convergence of different interests sometimes at odds with Ashe in the past are now joining him in calling for all wolf populations in the Lower 48 to be placed back under the blanket of federal protection until the full impacts of state laws can be scrutinized. Among those rallying together: 200 indigenous tribes, a long list of distinguished scientists, the environmental law firm EarthJustice, the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association, Project Coyote, Predator Defense, and others.
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Dating to the earliest decades of Yellowstone’s history, wildlife experts realized the park was not large enough to accommodate the movements of animals that migrate seasonally between higher elevations in summer and valleys in winter to escape deep snows. Just as elk, bison, deer and other species have evolved to migrate, so, too, do wolves move seasonally with their prey base, especially prey that moves out of the mountains, says the eminent wolf researcher L. David Mech.
Mech, in a recent scientific paper in Canadian Wildlife Biology & Management, did not specifically allude to Yellowstone, though there are inferences to the park and the fact that wolves now face hard human-imposed lines where on one side they can be shot and the other where they are protected. Evidence shows that public attitudes toward wolves continue to shift and citizens are willing to give them more space to roam without constant hounding from people. He suggested potentially adding on adjacent federal wilderness areas on Forest Service lands to Yellowstone and Glacier as places where wolves aren’t hunted. Doing so would protect wolf social structure and actually reduce conflict. Mech also references Idaho, saying that because it has no national parks where wolves are protected, it might consider classifying the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness Area or the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness as a wolf sanctuary. In two other papers that examine why wolves have been unsuccessful in inhabiting exurban areas, Mech writes: “Wolf survival in the long term requires large areas of extensive public lands.” He adds, “Even though positive attitudes toward wolves generally predominates, primarily by urbanites, the animosity is personal and strong enough that it can often prevail.”
Animosity can result in public policy that may, or may not, have any factual basis yet it is advanced nonetheless with righteousness. Cultural biases can trump the evidence of science,  he has told Mountain Journal, but a culture without objective fact to guide it, and help citizens sort out what is true versus what is not, can result in public policy that steers away from common sense.


Decision on wolf trapping regs expected Friday


This file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a gray wolf. (Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)By SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Daily Inter Lake | August 17, 2021 12:00 AM

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday is expected to decide on a number of proposals of interest to hunters and trappers in Northwest Montana, including wolf and furbearer trapping setbacks, season quotas and other regulations.

The commission is considering a proposal to allow snares for wolf trapping, increase the bag limit and allow a person to take more than one wolf per license.

It is also considering proposals for trapping setbacks in Region 1, the northwest corner of the state. Some setbacks — the minimum distance a trap must be placed from trails or popular recreation areas — would be added and some places would be designated as no-trapping areas.

In addition, the commission will consider a proposal to move bighorn sheep to Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake from other areas of Montana.

The bighorn sheep population on Wild Horse Island was started in 1939 with the release of six sheep from the Sun River area. Two rams from the Ural Tweed herd were moved there in 1987.

The herd has grown and is a source herd for other bighorn populations. A study of Montana’s bighorn populations revealed limited genetic diversity and some inbreeding within the Wild Horse Island population, though it was not an immediate concern.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ population objective for the island is 100 to 120 bighorn sheep. During surveys in 2018 and 2019, about 130 to 140 were observed. A survey was not completed in 2020, but to reduce the population observed in the 2018 and 2019 surveys to objective levels, 26 bighorn sheep were removed from Wild Horse Island and relocated to the Tendoy Mountains.

After those sheep were moved, more recent surveys detected about 75 bighorn sheep on the island. Reasons for the apparent decline are unknown, though experts suspect mountain lion predation may be a factor.

Disease sampling conducted during the translocation effort in 2020 detected no pathogens of concern. Hunting is not permitted on Wild Horse Island as it lies within the Flathead Reservation.

Public comment will be taken through Sept. 20. If the commission endorses the proposal, the department will work closely with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes wildlife staff to secure support for the bighorn sheep effort.

THE COMMISSION also is expected to decide on a proposal to allow any license and permit that was valid for deer or elk through the general big-game season to be valid for those species during the traditional muzzleloader season that runs Dec. 11–19, 2021.

Hunters would have to follow the conditions of that license and permit and regulations pertaining to the hunting districts in which the license-permit is valid.

There would be some exceptions, and all other general big-game season regulations would apply, including in areas with weapons restrictions.

Some of the exceptions in the proposal include:

  • Traditional muzzleloader hunting would not be allowed in wildlife management areas that close each Dec. 1 to protect wintering animals.
  • Motor vehicle access on many federal lands is prohibited starting Dec. 1 and hunters would have to abide by the rules of each land management agency.
  • Muzzleloader hunters would have to use plain lead projectiles and a muzzleloading rifle charged with loose black powder, loose pyrodex or an equivalent loose black powder substitute, and ignited by a flintlock, wheel lock, matchlock, or percussion mechanism using a percussion or musket cap.
  • The muzzleloading rifle would have to be a minimum of .45 caliber and may not have more than two barrels.
  • Hunters would not be allowed to use a muzzleloading rifle that requires insertion of a cap or primer into the open breech of the barrel, is capable of being loaded from the breech or is mounted with a magnifying scope.
  • Use of pre-prepared paper or metallic cartridges, sabots, gas checks or similar power- and range-enhancing manufactured loads that enclose the projectile from the rifling or bore of the firearm also would be prohibited.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission’s meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Capitol in Helena. The meeting will be streamed live on the Montana Public Affairs Network, YouTube and Zoom. Instructions for participating remotely and providing public comment can be found at

Montana wolf proposals draw thousands of comments

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A gray wolf is seen in Yellowstone National Park. In response to multiple new laws aimed at reducing Montana’s wolf population, state officials have rolled out regulation proposals for wildlife commissioners to consider later this month.National Park Service

Tom Kuglin

The majority of public comments submitted in response to proposed changes to Montana wolf hunting and trapping regulations opposed killing wolves, although those from Montanans were more evenly split.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reported roughly 25,000 public comments were submitted ahead of next week’s Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting. About 19,000 comments were form letters that generally opposed killing wolves or the proposed methods, according to agenda materials. About 90% of non-form letter comments also opposed killing wolves or expressed ethical or conflict concerns. About 1,000 comments could be identified as submitted from Montana, and those were about evenly split between support and opposition, according to FWP analysis.

The commission is expected to adopt final wolf hunting and trapping regulations at its meeting next week. Proposals stem from multiple new wolf management laws passed by Republican majorities in the Legislature and signed by fellow Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this year.

Laws mandating the allowance of snares to trap wolves; lengthening wolf trapping seasons; and directing state wildlife managers to reduce wolf populations stood as some of the most contentious of the session. That vigorous debate has continued into the regulatory process as the commission considers new wolf hunting and trapping proposals.

FWP submitted a 17-page proposal to the commission in June that includes proposals for changed or new regulations. Many of the proposals were offered as a range of options weighing increased hunting and trapping of wolves against potential conflicts with people or other wildlife. A cover sheet for next week’s agenda does not offer agency recommendations on which options it supports.

FWP does suggest that if 450 wolves are killed, then the commission be engaged to consider possible regulatory changes. The commission would be reengaged at 50-wolf intervals beyond that threshold. The commission would also be convened should a federally protected grizzly bear or lynx be trapped.

Following extirpation across the West, wolves returned to the northern Rockies through transplants and natural recolonization. Populations exceeded early recovery goals and were delisted in Montana and Idaho in 2008, a decision later overturned by a federal judge. In 2011, wolves were delisted legislatively with state-regulated hunting and trapping seasons for the past decade.

As populations rose so too did concerns over impacts to livestock interests and other wildlife such as deer, elk and moose. In western Montana where the majority of the state’s roughly 985 wolves occupy, a dip in elk hunter success was cited by lawmakers pushing this year’s legislation.

At the same time wolves have become a tourism driver particularly for Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area. Citing the laws in Montana and Idaho and exceedance of a quota for a Wisconsin wolf hunt, advocacy groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the animals. Groups have also notified Montana of their intent to sue over the new wolf laws, saying protected grizzly bears and lynx may be unintentionally caught.

The commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 20 in room 303 of the state Capitol. The meeting will also be available through Zoom and on

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.