Taking the reins
?Over the past six months, the situation regarding wolf management in Montana has changed—for the better. A new arrangement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) gives Montana more control over its own affairs, including how wolves within the state’s borders should be managed.
Early this past summer, the USFWS turned over most of the authority for Montana’s recovered, but still federally protected, wolf population to the state. Montana can now carry out much of the wolf conservation and management plan that has been approved by state and federal officials.
During the past ten years, Montanans have worked to come up with a wolf management plan with the expectation that wolves would one day be delisted and managed like black bears, elk, and other wildlife. Unfortunately, the delisting of wolves in the Northern Rockies hasn’t yet happened. That’s due to disagreement between the USFWS and the state of Wyoming regarding assurances that the state’s wolf management plan won’t let wolf numbers drop too low. However, the situation now in Montana (and likely soon in Idaho, which is working on a similar agreement with the USFWS) is a positive one because it allows us to make important decisions about wolf management. The most important decision: whether or not to lethally remove certain wolves (according to federal guidelines) that are killing or harassing livestock.
The new agreement also allows Montana to manage wolf numbers and distribution, help landowners reduce livestock depredation risks, and establish an independent source of funds to compensate for wolf-related livestock losses.
FWP is doing a lot right now to manage the roughly 150 wolves inhabiting Montana. We’ve hired a wolf management coordinator based in Helena and four wolf specialists in Kalispell, Bozeman, Dillon, and Red Lodge. They work closely with ranchers, FWP biologists, federal officials, and others to trap and radio-collar wolves, monitor the roughly 40 packs in Montana, learn more about wolf reproduction and predation, and reduce conflicts with livestock. That work will continue to be funded by the federal government until wolves are delisted.
We’re hoping that day won’t be long in coming. Thanks in large part to the patience, hard work, and cooperation of Montana’s citizens, wolves are now fully recovered in this state and have once again become a part of the Montana landscape. It just makes sense for this state to fully take the reins of wolf management back from the federal government.
If concern to many hunters is the fact that wolves kill elk. That’s true, but wolves also prey on deer and other big game. Elk numbers around Yellowstone National Park have declined, and that’s due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other areas of Montana where wolves and elk live together, elk populations are as healthy as ever.
Because some wolves kill livestock, we will need to lethally control some to reduce depredation (while finding new ways to prevent livestock losses). But we are committed to maintaining at least 15 breeding pairs (what we now have statewide) and working with ranchers to keep livestock losses as low as possible. In time, we hope to manage wolves as we do other large native predators such as mountain lions. As with lions, that management would include regulated hunting seasons, which don’t threaten overall populations.
It’s great that Montanans and others are so interested in wolves. But I hope they remember, too, that Montana is home to more than 500 different wildlife species. From a biological perspective, the wolf is just one of them.
M. Jeff Hagener is Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks