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

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

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.

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.

Community, Wildlife

On the Road and Around the Pond

Oh the Road & Around the Pond

This is an exciting time of year as we await the appearance of babies. We have does with rounded bellies. We have yet to see a fawn.  The fall burning of tree stumps around the yard resulted in holes and burrows that were not always filled before winter set in.  An opportunistic skunk moved into a burrow created by the removal of a tree root. Looking out the kitchen window we spotted 4 baby skunks. The babies are really cute but not particularly welcome.

He goslings are starting to color.  The ducks paused to finally get their portraits. We have spotted only a handful of tadpoles. Those tadpoles are steadily growing. The turtles are on the move and on the road. We noticed a neighbor stopping to carefully remove a turtle on the road to the safety of a grassed area.

A pair of whopping cranes are occasionally stopping to hunt in the field. The coyote is hunting in the field and along the road. The feral cats are making regular treks along the road. -Patches

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Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

Around the Pond

New on the game cam this week is a badger.  The badger tends to be transitory with few Columbia grounds squirrels residing in the field to become dinner. The geese are being geese. The goslings are growing and hiking along the pond’s edge.  The turkeys are being camera shy.  The deer look like they need a good combing.-Patches


The Small Predators

Sixty years ago, I prowled the field by my house with a single-shot 22, specializing in gophers – Columbia Ground Squirrels.  In the sixties, the war on gophers was the sort of thing that would have made Sadaam Hussein proud – rifle fire, traps, strychnine oats and compound 1080.  The rodent population would dip, but in the next couple of years, reproduction would bring the population back up.  Ten years ago, after the cancer, I walked through the grass – and in most of the places where I remembered ground squirrel colonies, I found only a few holes, and those unoccupied.

Watching from the pickup, I realized the change – as Dad had reduced grazing, naturally the grass grew taller – and I watched a long-tailed weasel hunting the ground squirrel colony.  Five years later, as I started construction on the house, I encountered only two spots with ground squirrels – reduced grazing, and a better habitat for the small predators to hunt had changed the fields from being good gopher habitat to good weasel habitat.  I suspect the weasel population is larger now, but they’re a bit hard to count. It is amazing to see how effective and effortless the 21st century ground squirrel control is.

Long-tailed weasel. Image Credit: National Park Service

Voles have replaced ground squirrels as the rodent in the field.  A couple feral cats hunt them – but I learned more about the small predators when I took the canoe into the pond to work on an aerator.  The tale has its tragedy – I was sixty-eight years old the first time I ever tipped a canoe.  Pushed back with the paddle, a least weasel ran up my arm and perched on my left shoulder, and into the water I went.  The tiny weasel didn’t so much as get splashed – he ran into the stern, back where the flotation foam was, and peeked out as I pulled the canoe to shore.  Cute little guy, and it was funny once I got over the shock and went back for dry clothes.  It is a bit embarrassing to tip a canoe when an animal weighing less than 3 ounces startles you.  Startles, surprises, you understand.  Not scares.  Definitely not frightens.

I figured I should clean out the flotation block, and when I opened it up, I found 52 vole skulls.  The least weasel was living in the middle of the flotation foam – a well insulated home for the little guy, and from that base had been hunting voles through the winter and into the Spring.  Obviously the finest form of vole control available.  I am a bit more cautious taking the canoe out anymore – though without the element of surprise I really don’t believe a 3 ounce weasel can capsize me.  They are actually a cute little beast, as this picture shows.

By Jerzy Strzelecki – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

I’ve also seen the short-tailed weasel here – another vole specialist, white with a black-tipped tail,  The field guides for all 3 weasels describe habitat as “Found in almost all land habitats near water.”  Obviously, with the ponds, we’re near water. It looks like ground squirrel control is actually easy – don’t trap the weasels, and don’t overgraze.  I can do nothing as well as anybody.

Community, Wildlife

A Pig in a Coat

Thursday morning had an unusual announcement on the Community Page – two pigs were out on the road south of Trego School.  So long as they were on the road, I figured it was no problem, and kept doing a little maintenance on the Suzuki.  Then a red pickup came in, Kiki and the little Lass started their intruder alert, and I prepared the “hunter talk” – a chat that explains that there are too many residences past the trees to hunt safely here.

I didn’t need the “hunter talk”.  The driver asked if I owned pigs.  I had to get him to repeat himself.  Turns out there was a deputy alone on the road with two pigs, one who couldn’t move its hindquarters, a second pig with road rash, and he needed to get to work.  I loaded the Pomeranians into the Suzuki and went to be of minimal assistance.  Admittedly, the thought of a downer hog dragging itself into the woods was not particularly upbeat.  After all, last week was the picture and tracks of mama griz and baby bear.  

The first thing I saw was a crippled, shivering market size hog wearing my recruiter’s coat.  It is good to know that the neighbor you just met is the sort of person who will cover an injured pig with his own coat as he drives off to search for backup for the deputy.

Todd arrived with the Pub’s Beer Jeep – and replaced the coat with a blanket.  I kept the pigs company while the deputy searched for a place the pigs might have known as home.  The deputy returned, Todd returned, and then the owners came in with a horse trailer.  They were a lot more skilled at pig handling than we were, so the pigs were soon loaded up and on their way.  It’s a good community where a guy will give the coat off his back to keep an injured pig warm.  And I can speak to Todd’s decency in putting an injured pig in a blanket.

Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

The not so perfect Game Camera: Video

After missing what should have been great photos of bears, I decided to see if the video mode would be any better.  I don’t use video very much because I haven’t invested in the companies that make batteries;  Video uses batteries quickly. 

Video also takes lots of space on your SD cards.  And I only need so many videos of deer walking up to sniff the camera.

According to my cameras this week, no bears walked on the driveway.  A follow up confirmed no new bear droppings.  If my cameras are to be believed, only a few deer, a feral cat, and a couple of turkeys were on the driveway. I will leave the camera in video mode probably until Thanksgiving in hopes of getting a video of a stray bear wandering by or maybe a coyote or two. In the meantime, here are the turkeys.