Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission approved last week wolf hunting and trapping seasons for 2012-13.
For the upcoming seasons, hunters will have the opportunity to pursue wolves throughout Montana beginning Sept. 1 for archery hunting, Sept. 15 for backcountry rifle hunting and Oct. 15 for the general rifle season. The archery season will close Oct. 14 and the general season will end Feb. 28, 2013.
Montana's first wolf trapping season will run Dec. 15 through Feb. 28, 2013, but to participate all prospective trappers are required to attend a certification class to learn more about what it will take to properly harvest a wolf and the need to be prepared for the challenge.
The minimum Montana wolf population estimates at the end of 2011 include 653 wolves, in 130 verified packs, and 39 breeding pairs. The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually counted by FWP wolf specialists, and likely is 10 to 30 percent fewer than the actual wolf population.
"We are clearly aiming to reduce the wolf population in Montana,” said Ken McDonald, FWP's wildlife bureau chief in Helena. "Last year we hoped to reach a minimum population of about 425 after the hunting season, but after more than five months of hunting the population still grew from the previous year. This year we sought, and the commission approved, additional management tools to help reach a social balance that better reflects biological realities and public tolerance and values."
While commissioners did not adopt a statewide wolf harvest quota, as they did in 2009 and 2011, they did set a quota of two wolves in Wolf Management Unit 110 and three wolves in WMU 316. Those WMUs are located near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks respectively. All harvested wolves are still required to be reported.
Commissioners also established the combined hunting and trapping bag limit at three wolves, not more than one of which may be taken while hunting. To take a wolf while hunting, a wolf hunting license is required. To take wolves while trapping, trappers are required to complete a certification class and hold a Montana trapping license.
Trappers, however, must check their traps every 48 hours and immediately report any unintended animal caught in a trap, including domestic animals. To avoid unintended captures, wolf traps must be set back 1,000 feet from trailheads and 150 feet from roads, where as Montana's furbearer regulations generally require 300-foot set backs from trailheads and 50-foot set backs on roads. Snares and conibear traps are prohibited for wolf trapping.
In response to public comment, the commission additionally directed FWP to conduct a review of the overall harvest prior to the opening of the trapping season to determine if season adjustments are needed. FWP and the FWP Commission can close the wolf season at anytime.
Montana's first regulated wolf hunt took place in 2009 when 72 wolves were taken by hunters, three fewer than the established quota. Last year, hunters harvested 166 wolves, about 75 percent of the quota of 220 wolves.
"We're learning from past experience," McDonald said. "We're optimistic that this year's changes reflect lessons learned and will get Montana closer to management goals that include reduced impacts to livestock and ungulate populations while maintaining a viable statewide wolf population."
McDonald said FWP computer harvest models project that a 60 percent harvest rate in 2012-13 would result in an end-of-season wolf population of approximately 490 wolves. This modeling includes anticipated reductions due to livestock depredation and mortalities from other events, like accidents and natural causes.
"There is no question that wolves and their management stirs passion and controversy across the political spectrum," McDonald said. "We heard from more than 6,500 people who commented on the 2012 wolf proposal and we respect each and every point-of-view expressed, but in the end we've been entrusted to manage all wildlife in the State of Montana and we have the gold standard of wolf conservation and management plans to guide us. Whether you love wolves or hate them, our job is to manage them in a manner that reflects their role in the ecosystem and the diverse values of the people who live, work, and recreate here. That's the delicate balance we're working to achieve."
To learn more about Montana’s wolf population, visit FWP online at fwp.mt.gov. under 'For Fish & Wildlife Information', click "Montana Wolves".
2012-13 Wolf Season Basics
Montana Wolf Season Background
Federal Wolf Recovery Goal for the Northern Rockies & Current Population
Montana's Wolf Population