Community, Wildlife

Montana Moves to Control Burgeoning Wolf Population

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.

Here’s Dean Weingarten’s writing on the topic:

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

A Science for Everyone, Wildlife

No Climax Species When Climate Changes

Half a century ago, I was exposed to the concept of a climax species – and I really liked the idea that there would be a single identifiable species of tree (or grass) that would indicate all I need to know about the climate, the environment.

I thought of the dominance of ponderosa pine and bluebunch wheatgrass on the Tobacco Plains, versus the dominant Douglas Fir/Western Larch around Trego – and the 4-inch difference between the annual precipitation that shows up with 400’ difference in elevation and a quarter degree of latitude. 

Somewhere over that half-century, I gradually came to realize that climate, like weather, changes.  A glance at the drumlins north of Eureka provides evidence of the retreating glaciers.  The old shorelines of glacial lake Missoula show that things have changed.  In southern Colorado, the same annual precipitation that supports Douglas Fir forest in Trego supports pinon pine and rubber rabbitbrush.  Entrepreneur.com explains that George Church, Ph.D.  is working on genetically recovering the Wooly Mammoth – 

The reason is this: One of the greatest threats to the earth is the melting of the arctic permafrost and its massive release of the greenhouse gasses that are stored safely in its freeze. When the herds of woolly mammoth and other animals vanished, that area became covered with a forest that keeps the earth warmer. Church is betting on the idea that a resurrected population of the mammoths, if let loose in the arctic, would chomp and stomp down the bush and trees, exposing the earth to subzero temperatures and allowing the tundra’s original grasslands to grow back. That ecosystem, maintained by the large creatures, would then effectively sequester carbon, rather than allowing it back into the atmosphere.”

Author: Liz Brody, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/384478

Dr. Church has partnered with Texan Ben Lamm to fund this project – Lamm says it will take six to eight years to get the baby mammoths on the ground.  I had mammoth bones and teeth at the TSJC museum, along with bison antiquus from Folsom – so I have a decent idea how big the critters are.  Church is from Harvard – Boston – close to sea level.  Lamm is from Texas – a state that doesn’t have a lot of experience with continental glaciation.

I suspect your view of climate change is related to your location.  I live at 3,000 feet elevation.  A rising sea level isn’t much of a concern.  At just shy of the 49th parallel, a bit of global warming doesn’t threaten me as much as it does Texas, or Boston harbor.

Still, I’m not certain this is all that good an idea.  I don’t particularly want the glaciers back . . . and bears in the apple trees are enough of a nuisance.  I don’t know what it would take to fence out a wooly mammoth.

Wildlife

Bears know that the apples are ready…

It’s time to pick apples – at least according to the local wildlife. This weekend, we happened upon an adult black bear and her cubs munching on the apples down by the Trego railroad crossing in the wee morning hours.

Bears aren’t too picky about ripeness. Like many mammals, they’re attracted to the smell of fermentation – (the smell indicates a fruit has the highest calorie content it’s going to get). As apples get ripe (and then overripe) they become even better bear attractants.

Can bears become inebriated? Certainly! Glacier Park had a number of incidents back in the 80’s. Several railroad spills released thousands of tons of barley and corn. Buried by cleanup efforts, much of the grain fermented anaerobically, producing high volumes of alcohol. Upon emerging in the spring, bears promptly dug up the fermented mash, wish predictable consequences.

While unattended grain can ferment well, fruit left to its own devices rarely produces enough alcohol to have an effect on large mammals. Bears may be in your apple trees in the near future, but at least you won’t have to worry about them being drunk and disorderly. Not from that, anyway.

Community, Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

Patches Pieces

Eventually, all critters travel the driveway. Sometimes the game cam even catches them. A daytime appearance of the coyote on the driveway is unusual.  He is traveling the driveway most nights. All sorts of deer use the pond and driveway. I am not sure why it always seems to surprise me that skunks climb stairs.  The game cam caught one on the bridge step. For the last several days a blue heron has been hunting frogs in the pond.  So far no bear sightings on the game cam. But as the apples ripen, I expect we will see them around.

Wildlife

Wild Geese Have Flown

Another hatch of goslings have taken flight from the pond.  In the flyway we saw huge numbers of Canada geese – here, we see a single pair, year after year, who are our Summer neighbors, and traffic slows to watch them.

Gander seems as strong and youthful as ever, but the years are taking a toll on Goose – the cold Spring months that she spends on the nest have aged her more  She walks slowly, spends more time with her head held low, and leaves the flock leadership to Gander.  Hopefully, she will winter easily and return to raise another flock next Spring.

They chose the pond because the island makes a safe nesting spot as soon as the ice goes out.  They arrive early, to beat the competitors, with last year’s flock.  This year, the hatching took two rainy days – Goose remaining on the nest, Gander on the goslings.  Their parenting dedication is impressive.

July has been the month of flight training.  Gander starts training them on water landings before they can fly, with flapping runs from the dock to drop into the water, move to swimming mode, and leave open space for their siblings.  The next stage of flight training includes a walk into the mowed field, then a takeoff, circling until organized, and a water landing in the pond – repeated until everything is satisfactory.  Eventually they move to landings on solid surfaces, then to forced takeoffs when he leads them close to the house and the small dogs.  Then one day the flock flies off to other sites in the area, returning occasionally to the home pond. 

Wildlife

Single Chick Flocks

It has been a good year for raven hatchlings, as well as for Goose and Gander.  The Montana field guide explains that egg dates for ravens are probably early in April, and that the young have been identified flying around Fortine as early as June 8.  The typical clutch is 3 to 7 birds – and this year the adults and the young have been specializing in turkeys – eggs and chicks.

This year, Goose and Gander had their goslings hatch out over two rainy days – but they take parenting seriously, so Gander took over the hatchlings as Goose spent one more day on the nest until the hatching process was complete.  This patriarchal assistance doesn’t exist among turkeys, where the males are content to strut and gobble.  The two species may offer a lesson for humans.

We’ve watched ravens land in the salt lick with turkey eggs or fledglings.  It is a reminder that nature is not gentle, and that reaching adulthood is a great accomplishment for prey species.  I realized how rough it has been when I watched two turkey hens, each protecting the single chick they have left.  One was just beginning to fly, and the hen flew to join it on a branch – three ravens were stalking through the grass, but when the small turkey goes airborne, it’s totally vulnerable.  The other chick, not yet flying, had its mother stand her ground – she is actually capable of intimidating the young ravens.  We’re accustomed to a pair or three turkeys consolidating their hatches into large flocks – this pair has only been able to protect 2 chicks from predation.

The geese and ducks don’t seem to be bothered by the ravens – they keep swimming and the ravens aren’t equipped for water landings.

The ravens – old and young – are spending a lot of time in the tall trees along the edges of the field.  Close to the house, they’re looking for robins, bluebirds and swallows.  I haven’t seen any after the hummingbirds.  As Spring brings fawns, it looks like the little dog and I will have to walk in the field to discourage the ravens from the fawns who are parked in the grass.