State wildlife officials today released the tallies charting the overall accomplishments of the 2011-12 wolf hunting season.
The wolf hunting season ended with a total harvest of 166 wolves, 75 percent of the overall quota of 220 wolves. The season was initially set to end Dec. 31, 2011, but the FWP Commission extended wolf hunting until Feb. 15 to allow hunters to get closer to the harvest quota. The season extension resulted in the harvest of an additional 45 wolves, or about one per day.
“We may not have reached the statewide quota, but the season results do offer additional insight on how best to manage wolves,” said Ken McDonald, chief of FWP’s wildlife bureau in Helena. “One of our objectives this year was to determine how effective hunters could be throughout and after the deer and elk season. While it’s clear we’ll need more tools to reduce the wolf population to manage impacts on deer and elk populations—and to address the concerns of Montana’s landowners, hunters and others—this was an important season for FWP wolf management and for hunter opportunity.”
In all, 100 wolves were taken between Sept. 3, 2011 and the end of Montana’s general big game hunting season, which closed Nov. 27, 2011. Yet, according to harvest reports, only 43 of the 100 wolves taken during the big game season, or 26 percent of the total harvest, were “opportunistically” taken by hunters who were actually afield hunting deer or elk.
“That’s a big surprise,” McDonald said. “During Montana’s first wolf hunting season in 2009, the opportunistic harvest was almost 80 percent, so Montana hunters are really doing their homework and trying to learn more about wolf behavior.”
Montana’s 2011-12 wolf harvest of 166 wolves also took a more than two-fold leap over the 72 wolves harvested in 2009.
“We’re encouraged by the fact that we reached the quota in three wolf management units, came to within two harvests in six other WMUs, and reached more than half the quota in all but two WMUs,” McDonald said. “And we did this with the help of dedicated hunters whose growing interest in wolves in Montana is key to our approach to wolf conservation and management. We need the hunters’ support and participation for this to be successful.”
McDonald noted that FWP will seek additional tools to increase the wolf harvest in 2012. “Make no mistake, with a science based wolf hunt, we are attempting to manage the impacts of predators on prey in Montana and to find a tolerance level among private landowners and livestock growers as well as hunters concerned about deer and elk populations,” he said.
To reach that point McDonald said FWP will be looking at changes that could include allowing hunters to take more than one wolf or to purchase more than one hunting license. Also possible are new rules to allow the use of electronic calls, more wolf hunting educational opportunities, a reconsideration of statewide quotas, and a longer wolf hunting season. Some changes may require adjustments to existing statutes. Wolf-related management issues will also be included in a March 7 FWP Commission work session in Helena.
“We want to hear from the public on these and other potential options and will provide ample public opportunity to be involved in discussions when the FWP Commission considers options for the 2012-13 wolf season in May,” McDonald said. “Montana has been a leader in wolf delisting and wolf management, we’ve fought our way through the court system with a science-based approach and we’re not going to relinquish that leadership. We’re in this for the long haul and we’re going to ensure that the wolf stays off of the federal endangered species list while pursuing a wolf population level below current numbers in response to impacts on game populations and livestock.”
The interest in reaching that balance has not been lost on potential hunters. A total of 18,689 wolf hunting licenses were purchased for the past season—158 by nonresidents, who managed to harvest three wolves. Most successful wolf hunters were Montana residents who combined to harvest 163 wolves.
More than half of the total harvest, or about 52 percent, occurred on public lands. Of the total wolf harvest, 92 of the wolves were adults, 35 were yearlings and 25 were juveniles. Most adult wolves weighed about 91 pounds. The largest wolf harvested weighed 120 pounds. A total of 86 males and 80 females were harvested. Most of the wolves harvested, 115, were gray in color. Thirty-seven were black, seven were white and seven were of mixed hues.
Nearly every wolf examined was in good health, with only five showing some minor injury to paws or shoulders, at least two had parasites and one sustained porcupine-quill injuries.
The top county for wolf harvest was Lincoln with 26, followed by Flathead with 22, and Missoula with 15. Three counties—Beaverhead, Park and Ravalli—each produced a harvest of 13 wolves. Sanders saw 11 wolves harvested, followed by Lewis & Clark’s eight. Madison County had six wolves taken; while Granite and Mineral counties each had five; Powell and Teton each had four; Glacier and Silver Bow each had two; and Deer Lodge, Jefferson, Pondera and Stillwater counties each saw one wolf harvested. In all, the harvest was well distributed across the Montana’s wolf management units.
Wildlife officials documented a minimum of 653 wolves in Montana at the end of 2011. For more information, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Montana Wolf Hunt."