Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks laid the legal groundwork last week to share some management responsibilities with federal authorities for the state's recovered but still federally protected wolf population.
"FWP will begin to participate in a number of on-the-ground wolf management decisions," said FWP Director Jeff Hagener. "We're going to take it slow, but with the federal funds recently made available we can expand the state’s role while we continue to work toward the rapid federal delisting of the gray wolf in our region."
About $425,000 is available to begin work this summer. Additional federal funding is expected in the future. Hagener said FWP can now:
* carry out portions of its approved wolf conservation and management plan that do not go beyond federal regulations;
* participate in day-to-day management activities, including: wolf marking and population monitoring, information and education, human safety, and landowner assistance;
* work closely with federal Wildlife Services to address wolf- livestock interactions.
The way was cleared to share some wolf management activities by amending Hagener's earlier Wolf Conservation and Management Plan Record of Decision and by amending two existing agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that address endangered species management. The FWP Commission approved these actions last week. The amended documents do not allow for any hunting or trapping of wolves, officials said.
Montana's plan to conserve and manage the state's recovered wolf population was approved by USFWS in January. To take wolves off the threatened species list and transfer full management authority to the states, however, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must each have federally approved plans. USFWS approved Montana and Idaho management plans but asked Wyoming to make adjustments to its plan and associated state laws. Wyoming and the USFWS remain at loggerheads over the issue.
"Delisting, and integrating wolves into Montana's wildlife management programs, is our ultimate objective," Hagener said. "We're in a position now that will allow our wildlife biologists, game wardens and our communications and education professionals to begin to learn more about wolves and their management. We'll continue to look at options to achieve delisting as soon as possible, but by taking advantage of federal funding we are in a better position to meet the challenges of living with the recovered population instead of watching from the sidelines until delisting."
Ed Bangs, who directs the USFWS wolf recovery effort in the Northern Rockies, said Montana's involvement in wolf management will be good for wolves and the people who live with wolves every day. "Montana could be afforded even more management flexibility under rule changes now being considered. We are encouraged by Montana's willingness to participate in wolf management prior to delisting and we'll do what we can to ensure a smooth transition."
In March, USFWS released a proposal to relax Endangered Species Act rules in Idaho and the southern portion of Montana. The proposal seeks to allow states with federally approved wolf management plans to apply for authority to manage wolves according to federal regulations for as long as they remain listed.