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FWP seeks comment on wolf hunting, trapping proposals

MISSION VALLEY — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently held a commission meeting regarding proposed changes for the upcoming 2013-14 wolf hunting and trapping seasons. 

The proposed changes are numerous and far reaching, “but not final by any means,” said FWP communication and education coordinator Ron Aasheim.

The proposed changes include a new bag limit of five wolves per individual hunter, up from three last year. These wolves could be taken by any combination of hunting and trapping. The general hunting season would be extended one month, running through the end of March and totaling six and a half months.

While not an official proposal, Aasheim said FWP officials are seeking public comment on hunter bag limits in the two wolf management units south of glacier. Each have a quota of two wolves. 

“The question is, ‘Should there be a separate individual quota in that area versus one person taking two wolves?” Aasheim said. “There’s also some discussion of trappers assisting in response to livestock depredation. In other words, our staff typically handles that. Should the public be a part of wildlife depredation response?”

In addition, Aasheim and FWP officials are hoping to get feedback from trappers on the proposed 10-pound tension requirement on wolf traps in response to incidental take of other species. “Primarily, wolverines,” Aasheim said. “We’re trying to find out if that is reasonable (for trappers.) Wolverines weigh 40 pounds and wolves way twice as much. This is an attempt to eliminate incidental take and, in other words, eliminate animals (the trappers) are not trying to catch.”

The proposal also contained a new regulation that would allow hunters to take a wolf over bait placed for trapping.

The committee meeting was a colorful one when opened to public comment. While the comments were civil, emotions and tensions were high. 

A representative for the Montana Trappers Association pointed out that the harvest achieved last year through hunting was significantly lower than the year before. 

“Interest in hunting wolves in waning,” he said. “Where would we be without the trapping that was in place last year?”

Many trappers asked for more leniency in regulations. One trapper asked for more tools, saying that trapping two wolves last year was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” arguing that increased bag limits will not result in higher harvest numbers.

The bulk of the conversation seemed to stem from eco-tourism. Many Yellowstone National Park area outfitters were furious, saying the wolves had wandered out of the park and into Montana where they were promptly killed. Several said this is causing their businesses a great deal of stress, as they can no longer guarantee that their guests will see a wolf. 

“It was civil and divided. It’s ideological and philosophical,” Aasheim said of the commission meeting and the ongoing debate surrounding Montana’s wolf hunt. “It’s not unlike a lot of other issues that we deal with in Montana — in this case, hunting and wildlife management. There’s so much passion and interest and it’s a discipline in which everyone can have an opinion.”

Aasheim said strong opinions and views on wildlife management policies is the nature of the beast, crediting the phenomena to the commitment, interest and opportunity wolves and other species present to the public.

“I think, certainly, the majority of the comments came from people in and around Yellowstone park and the economics of it,” Aasheim said. “So (the driving force behind such an opinionated populace is) economic, personal opinion and personal passion. It’s what makes our jobs fun and challenging.”

According to a FWP press release, the complete wolf hunting and trapping season proposals, and opportunities to comment and submit public comments, are available on the FWP website. To comment, and to find more details on the proposed changes beginning May 13, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click “Hunting.” Comments are due by June 24 at 5 p.m. Comments can be mailed to FWP – Wildlife Bureau, Attn: Public Comment; P.O. Box 200701 Helena, MT 59620-0701.

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