Montana wildlife officials today welcomed the official removal of the Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Wolf conservation and management in Montana is now officially the responsibility of the state.
"Montana’s wolf population is healthy, growing and firmly established in Montana," said Jeff Hagener, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. "Montanans have shown patience and cooperation with this recovery effort. FWP supports wolf delisting and we're proud of the role the people of Montana have played in the recovery."
With delisting now official, the line separating Montana into the northern Endangered Area and the southern Experimental Area no longer exists. FWP will move to reclassify wolves throughout Montana as a species in need of management under state law, which also offers wolves legal protection much like other managed wildlife.
"It's important to understand that wolves are now an official part of the Montana wildlife environment," Hagener said. "The wolf will be managed like Montana's other wildlife species."
For instance, wolves can only be purposely killed legally during an official hunting or trapping season; when a wolf is killing, attacking or harassing livestock; and to protect human life, Hagener said.
With delisting, the flexibility to protect livestock and domestic dogs is provided in Montana law. Similar to lions and black bears, a wolf seen actively biting, wounding, chasing, harassing, or attacking livestock or pets could be killed. Such incidents must be reported to FWP in 72 hours.
The new flexibility, however, may be short lived. Several groups have already filed a federal notice that they intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to block the wolf delisting.
The pending legal challenge is also affecting the sale of hunting licenses for a wolf-hunting season recently adopted by the Montana's FWP Commission. Officials said none would be offered for sale until Montana is assured a wolf-hunting season could occur.
Nevertheless, the recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies is one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid 1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies, 66 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs—successfully reproducing wolf packs—and a minimum of 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years. This goal was achieved in 2002, and the wolf population has increased every year since. The wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Area, which comprises parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, now stands at 1,500, with 100 breeding pairs.
About 420 wolves now inhabit Montana, in 73 packs and 39 breeding pairs, Hagener said.
The delisting announced today affects only the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves.
FWP has led wolf management under the federal guidelines since 2004. Delisting allows Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, guided completely by state management plans and laws.
"In participating in this wolf recovery effort—and the recent recoveries of bald eagles, and grizzly bears—Montanans made significant sacrifices and will continue to do so," Hagener said. "Wolves, grizzly bears and bald eagles will continue to spend portions of their lives on public and private lands. Helping landowners and working to conserve critical habitats will be a continuing challenge. Montanans will need the help of all the American people to fund the careful management of these important wildlife species well into the future."