The State of Montana is committed to recovering wolves. We will ensure that wolf populations are maintained at high enough numbers to prevent their reclassification as "threatened" under federal law in the three-state area of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The State intends to implement positive management programs to make sure that recovery is complete and wolves are integrated as a valuable part of our wildlife heritage. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is already engaged in activities which promote wolf recovery through its efforts on ungulate population monitoring, research, and management, through the acquisition and designation of Wildlife Management Areas, purchase of conservation easements, and other efforts to preserve and restore wildlife habitats.
Currently, the wolf is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 and under Montana’s own Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act passed in 1973. Beginning in the mid-1980’s, wolves have become established in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming through natural recolonization and reintroduction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) anticipates that recovery goals will be met in the foreseeable future. Among the requirements for delisting, the USFWS has determined that the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming must have management plans and other adequate regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that the recovered wolf population will remain secure within the northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Area following delisting.
The Governors of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have agreed that regional coordination in wolf management among the states, tribes, and other jurisdictions will be necessary. Furthermore, it is in the best interest of the citizens of their respective states for wolf recovery and delisting to proceed as soon as possible.
The people of Montana have a significant stake in the future management of wolves and should be provided an opportunity to deliberate issues related to wolf recovery and management. The Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council was appointed by Governor Racicot to advise Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks regarding wolf management in Montana after this species is removed from the lists of federal- and state-protected species, respectively.
We, the Council, recognize wolves as a species native to Montana. Integrating and sustaining wolf populations in suitable habitats will occur within the complex biological, social, economic, and political landscape of Montana. The State of Montana must ensure human safety, safeguard Montana’s livestock industry, maintain viable wildlife populations, and uphold the support of people with diverse public interests.
Wolves do well where prey, primarily deer and elk, are abundant. Restoration and maintenance of these prey populations is made possible through the financial investments of those participating in regulated public harvest of deer, elk, and other species. Prey populations are also dependent on open space, which in Montana, is often synonymous with large agricultural operations on private lands. Livestock operations often provide winter or year-round habitat for prey, which in turn may attract wolves and create the potential for wolf-livestock conflicts. It is important to maintain the economic viability of livestock operations that are adversely affected by wolf depredation. In the long run, this ensures habitat availability for both ungulates and wolves. Continued support and investments by those participating in regulated harvest of ungulates will, in time, lead to a regulated harvest of wolves to maintain a balance with prey populations as wolf numbers and distribution increase.
All Montanans share the challenges and opportunities associated with integrating the wolf into our landscape. To honor these diverse perspectives and interests, we, the Council, endorse the following Guiding Principles as the foundation for Montana’s Wolf Management Plan.
We, the Council, also make the following specific recommendations regarding legislation, funding, and educational efforts necessary for plan implementation.
The wolf is listed as a state endangered species in Montana under the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (87-5-109 MCA) passed in 1973. Under this statute, the wolf is legally protected from take except for specific purposes (scientific, zoological, or educational) or in specific circumstances under a permit issued by the FWP Director. Wolves may also be taken without a permit in emergency situations involving an immediate threat to human life. Action by the Montana Legislature is required to remove a species from a state classification as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered.’
In 1995, the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 394, which amends Title 81 (Department of Livestock) sections by adding the wolf to the definition of predatory animal (81-7-101, MCA). Furthermore, it states, "The Department of Livestock shall conduct the destruction, extermination, and control of predatory animals capable of killing, destroying, maiming, or injuring domestic livestock or domestic poultry, and the protection and safeguarding of livestock and poultry in this state against depredations from these animals" (81-7-102, MCA). This section also states that the Department of Livestock shall "adopt rules applicable to predatory animal control which are necessary and proper for the systematic destruction of the predatory animals by hunting, trapping, and poisoning operations and payments of bounties." The effective date of this Act is "whenever the gray wolf is removed from the list of threatened or endangered species by the appropriate agency of the United States government."
The USFWS will not delist the gray wolf in Montana while the wolf remains classified as a "predatory animal" because FWP would have no ability to regulate take and the Department of Livestock would be required to conduct its extermination. Unless Statute 81-7-101 is amended, Montana would not have adequate regulatory mechanisms in place to assure the USFWS that wolves would not require subsequent reclassification and federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Montana Statute 87-3-130 addresses the taking of wildlife to protect persons or livestock. It states that there should be "no criminal liability for the taking of wildlife protected by this chapter if the wildlife is molesting, assaulting, killing, or threatening to kill a person or livestock." After wolves come under state management authority, the Council understands this Statute to also extend to livestock producers protecting their livestock from wolves which are found "molesting, assaulting, killing, or threatening to kill." However, it is unclear whether this statute could also be interpreted to include domestic pets and guarding animals under the concepts of defense of life and protection of livestock.
The Council makes the following legislative recommendations:
The Council believes that implementation of the Montana Wolf Management Plan should be contingent upon adequate funding. We recommend that the State of Montana pursue all possible funding sources including, but not limited to, public/private foundations, federal or state appropriations, and other private sources.
A wolf management plan for the state will be controversial. Personal opinions, anecdotal experiences, and biases for and against the wolf lead to emotional and often irrational viewpoints, creating a challenging environment in which to manage wolves. Therefore, the Council recognizes the importance, value, and need for an educational program to parallel management activities. The objectives of a sound wolf management education program should be to provide science-based and factual information regarding the wolf and its management in Montana, in the hopes that the public will become more knowledgeable, more objective, and less emotional regarding this species and its management.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks should be the lead agency in the formulation and dissemination of an educational program. However, the information sources should include other state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and tribes. All material provided to FWP and included in the program must be validated as factual and have a foundation of scientific data. Assuring the soundness of information will be the responsibility of FWP. This collaborative approach is also necessary to ensure that different groups do not put out conflicting information, which could undermine agency credibility and erode public acceptance of any wolf management program.