The Reintroduction of Wolves into Montana has been very successful, from only about 60 in the state in the 1990’s to estimates of over a thousand today. The State Government has recently passed a law to reduce the wolf population.
On 20 August, 2021, the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission voted to follow the intent of bill SB315, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte, on 30 April, 2021. SB314 was passed with the goal of reducing the wolf population while maintaining a minimum of 15 breeding pairs or 300 wolves in Montana. The 15 breeding pairs or 300 wolves are mandated to keep the wolf in Montana from being re-listed as an endangered species by the Federal government.
Re-listing would remove management of the wolf population from state control. The bill passed 62 to 35 in the House, 29 to 20 in the Senate, and was signed by Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on 30 April, 2021. From ktvq.com:
After a public comment period that drew more than 26,000 comments, the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission at its August 20 meeting adopted several changes to the 2021/2022 wolf hunting and trapping regulations.
Changes include eliminating quotas, increasing the number of wolf trapping and hunting licenses allowed for individual hunters, extending wolf trapping seasons, and the allowance of snares for trapping wolves.
Here is a summation of the rule changes, from a transcript of the Commission adoption of Wolf Harvest rules for 2021-2022.
There is no quota for the number of wolves to be harvested. A review of the harvest by the Fish & Wildlife Commission is required when 450 wolves are reported as taken. Another review will be triggered whenever an additional 50 wolves are harvested.
Wolf trappers are allowed a total of 10 wolves for the season. Wolf hunters have to buy a license for each wolf taken, with a limit of 10 licenses per hunter. There are limitations on what type of snares can be used. Spring powered snares are allowed on private land, but not on public land. Limitations on the snares used are designed to prevent the death of non-target species. Night hunting for wolves, with artificial lights and/or night vision devices, is allowed on private land.
When wolves are harvested, the harvest is required to be reported to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) within 24 hours. A review of the harvest will be triggered if a grizzly bear or lynx is captured in a snare or trap.
In most parts of Montana, the wolf season will start on the first Monday after Thanksgiving to March 15. FWP is given the authority to delay the season start in those districts designated as Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones, but the season cannot be delayed later than 15 December, when most bears are expected to be denned up and hibernating. Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones are a small part of the state.
From 2012 to 2019 the average annual wolf harvest in Montana was 242 wolves. In 2020, the harvest was 328 wolves. The wolf population in Montana has been estimated at 1200 wolves.
The foremost wolf expert in the field, David Mech, suggested 50% of wolves over 5-10 months old need to be harvested each year to keep a stable population. Others suggested the number could be as low as 30%. From Wolf population dynamics (state of the art) p. 184:
Mech (1970, 63-64) suggested that over 50% of the wolves over 5-10 months old must be killed each year to control a wolf population, basing his estimate on Rausch’s (1967) age structure data on over 4,000 harvested Alaskan wolves. Because these wolves were killed in fall and winter, the 50% kill figure would have been in addition to natural mortality from birth to 5-10 months of age. Keith (1983) reevaluated the proposed 50% kill figure by assembling data from several field studies. He concluded that the figure should be less than 30%, including a precautionary hedge. However, the data he used (Keith 1983, table 8) included populations that may have been stationary when 41% were taken, and declining populations with a 58%-70% take. These data do not conflict with the 50% figure.
The Commission adopted the changes on a 3 to 2 vote. Elections have consequences. From mtpr.org:
Pat Byorth voted against the proposal. Byorth is the only commissioner who is a holdover appointee from former Gov. Steve Bullock; the rest of the commission was appointed by Gov. Greg Gianforte. Byorth said the new measures run at odds to long-established hunting ethics and fair chase in Montana.
If the commission is to follow the law, they need to reduce the wolf population. A harvest of 450 wolves would be a step in the right direction. To reach a harvest of 450 wolves, the commission loosened some of the many restrictions on wolf hunting and trapping.
Whether the removal of those restrictions will be enough to reach the minimum goal of 450 wolves harvested will become known in the 2021-22 wolf season.
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board reached a similar conclusion to the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission in 2021. The Wisconsin Board increased the wolf harvest goal in to 300, in an attempt to reduce the burgeoning number of wolves in the state.
Grey wolves migrated from northern Alaska to what is now Canada, the lower 48 states, and South America about 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. The migration of man to the same area may have happened that late. There are persistent archeological indications man may have preceded the wolf by thousands of years.
As long as the grey wolf has existed in most of Alaska, Canada, the lower 48 states and South America, they have been in competition with man for prey. Before the grey wolf became established, the dire wolf, the sabre toothed tiger, and the short faced bear became extinct. Many think man was the cause of that extinction.©2021 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included. http://gunwatch.blogspot.com/2021/09/montana-moves-to-control-burgeoning.html