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Montana Wolf Conservation and Management Plan

Preparing to Manage Wolves in Montana

Q. What is the wolf conservation and management effort all about and why are Montana, Idaho and Wyoming involved?
A. Among the federal requirements for removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming must have management plans and other regulatory mechanisms in place to maintain the recovered population within the Northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Area.
Q.Are the states fulfilling their federal requirements?
A. No. Montana and Idaho each have federally-approved plans. Montana's effort was characterized as a "class act" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Federal officials say that delisting in the northern Rockies is held up due to the lack of an approved plan and compatible state laws in Wyoming. Once that situation is resolved, federal authorities say they will take the necessary steps to officially delist the gray wolf. Once delisted, the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming will each be legally required to sustain its share of a viable wolf population in the northern Rockies.
Q.What issues have emerged in Montana?
A. Through the work of the Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council-and subsequent community work sessions throughout Montana in 2002-03-Montanans identified issues related to: wolf management, numbers and distribution; social factors; administration and delisting; prey populations (deer, elk and moose); funding; livestock; wolf habitat; compensation for livestock losses; economics; information and education; human safety; wolf monitoring, and others.
Q. What does the recommended Montana's wolf conservation and management plan seek to establish?
A. The recommended plan, which is an updated version of the Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council recommendations, would create a wolf conservation and management program similar to that for black bears and mountain lions. It would be based on numbers, distribution and public acceptance. Wolf management techniques, and the methods used to resolve conflicts, would be based on a benchmark of 15 breeding pairs in Montana. The plan considers the spectrum of management activities-from simple harassment techniques to chase wolves away, to lethal control measures, like offering kill permits to landowners and regulated hunting or trapping. The aim is to sustain the wolf population, Montana's deer and elk populations, and to help resolve wolf-human and wolf-livestock conflicts.
Q. Why did FWP choose to recommend the Updated Council Alternative as the final plan?
A. To best balance the diversity of public interests and desires about wolf conservation and management. The recommended plan is based on the consensus recommendations of the Montana Wolf Advisory Council, a broad array of public comments gathered throughout this EIS process, and advice from wolf experts. It seeks a balance between the biological needs of wolves and the concerns of people.

FWP's Role

Q. Will FWP now begin to manage wolves?
A. No. Even after the Record of Decision is signed by FWP Director Jeff Hagener in September, a state plan is just one step FWP and Montana must take in what is expected to be a longer federal process that includes an evaluation of each state's plan and regulations that must together maintain a secure wolf population.
Q. Is FWP going to manage wolves?
A. That is the agency's hope. But FWP won't obtain management authority until wolves are officially delisted. In addition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must approve Montana's, Idaho's, and Wyoming's management plans. FWP, however, firmly believes a state-administered conservation and management program can best address the diverse expectations of Montana's citizens.
Q. What are the legal aspects of state-run wolf management?
A. Upon delisting, the gray wolf will be reclassified under state law from "endangered" to a species "in need of management" which establishes the legal mechanism to prevent intentional human-caused mortality outside the immediate defense of life/property. When it becomes clear that the management program is maintaining a secure, viable population, reclassification to big game or furbearer may follow.
Q. Would any other state agency have any legal obligations regarding wolf management?
A. Yes. Montana law assigns joint responsibility to FWP and the Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) to manage wildlife that can cause damage to livestock. FWP and MDOL will work together with federal Wildlife Services (formerly Animal Damage Control) to resolve wolf-livestock conflicts.

Montana Wolf Numbers

Q. How many wolves are there in the Northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Area?
A. An estimated 835 wolves, in about 110 packs with 66 of those qualifying as breeding pairs, inhabited the northern Rockies recovery area at the end of 2004.
Q. How many wolves are in Montana?
A. Federal officials estimated that 153 wolves, in 40 packs, and about 15 breeding pairs inhabited Montana. These estimates were made in December 2004. Additional wolf packs-and dispersing wolves-may exist but have yet to be confirmed.

Funding Wolf Management

Q. What will it cost to manage wolves in Montana?
A. FWP's best estimate for the preferred alternative suggests that it will cost from $913,000 to $954,000 annually. Cooperating federal agencies are expected to incur some expenses through the federal budgetary process.
Q. Can FWP fund wolf management in Montana?
A. Not at this time. It is clear existing financial resources are not adequate to manage wolves in Montana. Additional funding will be required to implement all elements of a wolf management program.
Q. How will state wolf management be funded?
A. The recommended plan directs FWP to seek additional funding from special state or federal appropriations, private foundations, or other private sources to supplement funds committed by FWP in amounts similar to those for other native carnivores like black bears and mountain lions. The governors of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming are pursuing a program called the Northern Rocky Mountain Grizzly Bear and Gray Wolf National Management Trust to help the states fund the management of recovered threatened and endangered species. The idea originated in Wyoming. In light of local funding and resource shortfalls, the states hope Congress will recognize the significant national interest in the conservation and management of these species. In the interim, the three states may seek special Congressional appropriations to fund state activities during the transition of management authority.

The Prey: Deer, Elk & Moose

Q. Will wolves impact game populations like deer, elk and moose?
A. Yes. How much of an impact is uncertain at this time. Wolves-like mountain lions, coyotes, and bears-eat deer, elk, moose and other game animals. All wildlife populations are variable through time and across a diversity of habitats. Population numbers fluctuate. It won't be the same everywhere all the time. Research in Montana and elsewhere has shown that predation may influence deer, elk and moose populations through changes in the survival of young, the death of adult animals, or a combination of both. For example, if a higher than normal number of female deer die in any given year from things such as hunting or a severe winter, local conditions could allow wolves and other predators to keep that deer herd's numbers suppressed or slow its population growth.
Q. Will wolves affect hunting in Montana?
A. They probably will in some places. As with other population effects, however, there is no clear answer except that wolves will add another factor to consider among all the environmental and social factors wildlife biologists wrestle with every year in setting harvest limits on big game. Hunting opportunities are then adjusted in response to all factors combined. Wolves may affect some local, deer, elk or moose populations. When predation is combined with unfavorable environmental conditions-like drought or a severe winter-it may affect hunter opportunities in that area.
Q. How will FWP assess whether wolves are adversely affecting a big game population and how will it respond?
A. Monitoring programs will help FWP detect changes in both wolf and prey populations. While a direct cause/effect relationship between wolf predation and prey-population decline is difficult to pinpoint with certainty, in light of other environmental factors, FWP would consider reducing the size of the wolf population in a localized area. Wolf management decisions would also be paired with other management actions to reduce prey mortality - like adjusting hunter opportunity or more aggressive management of other predator species such as mountain lions. Parallel management efforts for predators and prey would continue until the deer, elk, or moose population rebounded and environmental conditions are favorable.

Wolves and Livestock

Q. What will livestock producers be able to do to protect their livestock under state management authority?
A. Under the recommended plan, management tools are intended to decrease livestock depredations. Livestock producers would be offered assistance to reduce depredation risks, and they would be allowed to harass wolves, or to kill wolves caught attacking, killing or threatening their stock. In addition, to remove a wolf causing chronic conflicts, a livestock producer could receive a special kill permit. All such incidents must be reported to FWP and an investigation would follow. This is consistent with current state laws that address protection of human life and private property when they are in imminent danger from wildlife.
Q. What impacts will wolves have on livestock or stockgrowers?
A. From 1995-2004, authorities confirmed 167 cattle, 397 sheep, 25 dogs and nine llamas were lost to wolf depredation in Montana. Some stockgrowers, however, have experienced other "unconfirmed" losses they suspect were due to wolves. So far, most depredation incidents investigated by Wildlife Services within Montana occurred on private land. Although wolves cause a small number of the total livestock losses in Montana compared to other sources of livestock mortality-like weather, disease, and reproductive problems-personal financial losses may result directly from wolf depredation. Indirect costs may accumulate because of increased management activities, changes in husbandry practices, injured livestock, or uncompensated losses. These financial hardships accrue to individual farmers and ranchers and may be significant to them.

Compensation for Livestock Injuries and Losses

Q. Will farmers and ranchers get compensated if wolves injure or kill livestock when wolves are managed by Montana?
A. The recommended plan directs the State of Montana to develop, in cooperation with livestock producers and private groups, an entity to administer and fund a compensation program for damages caused by wolves. Compensation is critical to maintaining tolerance for wolves by livestock producers who experience financial losses due to wolves.
Q. How will this program be funded?
A. That will be determined by the work accomplished by the State of Montana, livestock producers and private groups who will seek to create an entity to administer and fund a compensation program for damages caused by wolves.
Q. Doesn't the Defenders of Wildlife already have a program to compensate farmers and ranchers when wolves injure or kill livestock?
A. Yes, but Defenders of Wildlife may end the program when wolves are delisted. Livestock producers have been compensated for confirmed losses at fair market value and 50% of market value for probable losses at the time of death and at fall value for young of the year. Between 1987 and 2001, Defenders of Wildlife paid more than $81,000 for all confirmed and probable wolf-caused losses in Montana.

Public Safety

Q. Should Montanans be concerned about public safety?
A. Wolves generally fear people and rarely pose a threat to human safety. In the past 100 years, there have been several published accounts of human injuries, but no fatalities, due to wolves. It is, however, unusual for a wild wolf to associate or interact with people, linger near buildings, livestock, or domestic dogs. This behavior is more typical of a released captive wolf, a wolf habituated to a domestic food source or wolf-dog hybrid. Wild wolves generally have some place to be and something to do and do not seek out or loiter around areas of human settlement.
Q. What should Montanans do if they see a wolf?
A. You can report wolf sightings to your local FWP office or to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 406-449-5225. Despite their wariness of people, wolves will still use natural habitats in close proximity to humans, particularly in forested and other settings that have come to be called "urban-wildland interface." For this reason, we are more likely to see gray wolves than other large carnivores such as mountain lions or black bears. Wolves will commonly use roads, utility corridors, and railroad rights-of-way as travel routes. Tracks and scats are often found on roads. Wolves also feed and rest in open areas with good visibility, whereas lions tend to hide their kills and feed or rest in dense vegetation. Wolves will also travel across openings in forest cover or natural meadows in ways that mountain lions or bears do not. And because wolves live in packs, more than one may be seen at a time.