Federal wildlife officials turned over most authority for the state's recovered but still federally protected wolf population to Montana today allowing the state to carry out much of its approved wolf conservation and management plan.
"It's been a long time coming, but the people of Montana worked hard over the past 10 years with the expectation that the wolf would one day be delisted and managed among all of the state's wildlife," said Jeff Hagener, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks "The agreement is confirmation that the people of Montana did their part to restore the wolf in this part of the country. It allows Montana to make wolf management decisions, which puts us in a better position to meet the challenges of living with the recovered population instead of waiting for delisting."
Under the agreement, Montana will conduct population monitoring, research, and public outreach, in addition to determining when non-lethal and lethal wolf-control actions are appropriate to reduce conflicts with livestock. Because wolves in northern Montana are currently classified as "endangered" and wolves in southern Montana are managed under a less restrictive "experimental, non-essential" classification, Montana still must follow federal guidelines related to lethal control.
"While the ultimate vision is delisting the wolf, this is an important interim step that recognizes the commitment and good will of the people of Montana," said Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's coordinator for wolf recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains. "We're enthusiastic about this management transition because it is good for the wolf and for the people who live with them."
The agreement will allow Montana to apply its federally approved wolf conservation and management plan to:
* manage wolf numbers and distribution and maintain the wolf's recovered status;
* help landowners reduce livestock-depredation risks;
* use wolf-management techniques to resolve wolf-related conflicts, based on a benchmark of 15 breeding pairs of wolves in Montana;
* help establish an independent financial compensation program for wolf-related losses;
* monitor deer and elk populations;
* ensure human safety.
Because the wolf is still protected under the Endangered Species Act, hunting is prohibited until the wolf is delisted.
The agreement is effective through June 2010, or until the wolf population in Montana is removed from the threatened and endangered species lists. Federal funding sources will cover work of FWP's wolf management coordinator based in Helena, and wolf specialists based in Kalispell, Bozeman, Dillon, and Red Lodge. Under the agreement, FWP must prepare annual reports to document the recovered status of the Montana wolf population.
The biological requirements for wolf recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming were met in December 2002. To take wolves off the endangered species list, however, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must each have federally approved plans. USFWS approved Montana and Idaho management plans in 2003, but asked Wyoming to make adjustments to its plan and associated state laws. The hoped for proposal to delist gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is delayed indefinitely because Wyoming has not made the requested adjustments.Wolves from Canada began to naturally recolonize northwestern Montana in the mid 1980s. In the mid 1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery in the northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 66 wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Since then, wolves have expanded in number and distribution throughout the federally designated Northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Area in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Federal officials estimated in December 2004 that at least 153 wolves, in about 40 packs, and about 15 breeding pairs inhabit Montana.