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Low quota numbers extend wolf hunt

HELENA – Montana hunters now have the chance to continue hunting wolves until Feb. 15. The season was originally set to end on Dec. 31, but so far only 107 wolves of the 220 quota have been harvested. The harvest of only 66 percent with only two and a half weeks left in the current season forced Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners to come up with a solution. MT FWP Commission made a decision during their monthly meeting at the Montana Wild Center in Helena on Dec. 8. Along with the approval of extending the wolf hunt, commissioners also approved to not require hunters orange during this time.

The Flathead Indian Reservation is closed to the wolf hunt; however, wolf management unit 130, which runs north from Seeley Lake to Kalispell and borders Glacier National Park, is one of the three in the state that has met its quota. Thirteen management units in Montana are still below quota.

“This is still only the second modern wolf hunt,” MT FWP Information and Education Manager John Fraley said. “The quota was set at 25 percent of the wolf population. We didn’t know if we’d meet it or not.”

“We are learning as we go,” FWP Commission chairman Bob Ream said right before the extension was unanimously approved. “Just because we don’t meet the quota doesn’t mean we failed.”

In 2009, the first wolf hunt was ended when the animal was placed on the endangered species list. Since it’s been removed, FWP is responsible for managing Wolves in Montana.

During public comment, many expressed a strong support for extending the season, while others supported the hunt to continue until the quota is met.

“I suggest the season is extended until the quota is filled,” an audience member commented. “We need to help protect ungulate and livestock problems.”

Marc Cooke of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition disagreed, claiming the hunt would interfere with a study going on in the Bitterroot.

“I’m avidly against this,” Cooke said. “People weren’t getting them when the weather was convenient. How are people gonna get wolves with 5 or 6 feet of snow in the backcountry?”

“With taking away hunters orange you can get closer,” Roy Wickman of Frenchtown said. “The elk and deer herds have been decimated.”

Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Wildlife Manager Dale Becker said if wolf populations get larger, there is a possibility more wild ungulates’ populations could be impacted.

According to Fraley, the elk and deer harvest numbers are low for a number of reasons, not just because of wolves.

“The elk and deer populations are down in many areas,” he said. “Last year we had a tough winter and spring, (and when you combine) wolves and hunting pressure, it adds up.”

Wolf licenses can still be purchased, but hunters must wait five days before they become valid.

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