By Michael Howell –
Legislation proposed by Montana’s U.S. Senator Jon Tester and attached as a rider to the Budget Bill approved on April 15, 2011, has put wolf management in the state back in the hands of state officials and plans are already afoot to sponsor a wolf hunting season this fall, according to FWP wildlife biologist and wolf specialist Liz Bradley.
Bradley said the agency would be presenting some tentative wolf hunting quotas for a Fall 2011 hunting season to the MFWP Commission at its scheduled meeting on May 12. If the Commission decides to go ahead with the hunt some proposed quotas will undergo a public review process prior to the Commission making any final decision. That decision could come in early summer.
One of the most significant changes that became effective last week following the delisting of wolves, according to Bradley, is that when a wolf is killed, or predation occurs, it will be a state game warden responding instead of a federal agent. She said that, except for these changes in law enforcement response, things won’t change much in terms of wolf management on the ground in the Bitterroot Valley until hunting season comes around.
Things will change north of here, though, where landowners were prohibited from shooting wolves, even those that were seen chasing livestock. Ranchers in the Bitterroot have always been able to shoot a wolf that was caught in the act of chasing livestock, according to Bradley, but now the ranchers north of Highway 12 will get to do the same.
Bradley said something that would change wolf management in the Bitterroot Valley would be the planned hunting season.
“We took into account the situation with the declining elk herds in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River area when putting our tentative quota recommendations together,” said Bradley. She said the proposed hunting season, if held successfully, would render moot the action the agency was seeking to invoke the 10j Rule to allow a reduction of the wolf population in the area. That request still sits under USFWS review.
Three conservation groups, including Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Friends of the Clearwater, and WildEarth Guardians, have filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Donald Molloy in Missoula challenging the constitutionality of the new law delisting gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. The groups allege the legislation violates the separation of powers. Tester’s law claims to preclude judicial review.
FWP spokesperson Ron Asheim said that, assuming the legal appeal did not interrupt things, the FWP Commission would be considering a recommended tentative quota for a fall 2011 hunt at 220 wolves. That would be an increase over the last hunting quota of 186. He said the recommendation includes 13 hunting districts with a new one established in the Bitterroot Valley to address concerns about predation on the elk herds there. Asheim said that the commission would decide on a quota at its next meeting on May 12. There would be a period of public review lasting to June 20 and an anticipated date of final decision on July 14.
By Michael Howell –