News From Montana
by Salle Engelhardt, vice president
Wolf Recovery Foundation
On December 9, 2007 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reconvened the original wolf management plan citizen advisory council in order to discuss their views on parameters for a future season on wolves after delisting takes place.
The State of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks functions on a biennial calendar. Therefore, in order to establish all hunt regulations for all game animals for the next two years, sessions during the next several weeks will be held to accomplish this objective. Since wolves are, currently, anticipated to be delisted this coming February, the agency is mandated by the legislature to establish the regulations for them as well.
Ten of the original members attended two sessions held in Helena on Dec. 9 and 10. Public comment was allowed during the official all-day session on the tenth. The session on the ninth was an evening event during which the committee was briefed on the current status of wolves in Montana and some discussion concerning the other two states involved in the reintroduction of the specie, Idaho and Wyoming. Discussion and MTFWP presentation by Carolyn Sime, state wolf program director, included a comparison of what they thought would happen back when the state’s management plan was developed with what is known at present.
The Montana plan is the most conservative of the three states because it clearly states that one of the main objectives of the plan is sustain a viable population of wolves. The plan also states that hunting is a viable tool of management.
The process through which this plan was developed is truly commendable as it is a sound demonstration of public involvement in the democratic process. This condition does not exist in Wyoming or Idaho concerning wolves in general either with regard to their management or survival.
Many of the points of discussion that came up during the official meeting on the tenth included concerns over the fact that the three states are tied together in this situation and that Wyoming and Idaho are problematic given their rhetorical stances.
Other topics discussed included this potential hunt is by no means an effort to reduce population numbers; the problems of insufficient migration corridors for genetic integrity of the overall population; methods of hunting; possible number of wolves to be hunted; the impacts on pack dynamics following a hunt season; timing relative to other species seasons; hunting districts, their locations and size; and a great deal of discussion on using the hunt as a tool in reducing conflicts with livestock/ag interests.
It appeared that, based on the concerns discussed, the advisory council is very concerned about establishing conservative limits or quotas on the number of wolves to be hunted in general. It was also evident that the results of the first hunt should be used to determine how the next season will be regulated. This seemed a wise decision since it is unknown how an actual hunt in this region will look. It was also mentioned that hunting wolves in the Rocky Mountains would be a unique situation and comparisons to Alaska and other locations are not adequate to address the specific conditions that exist in this region.
It remains to be seen how the actual regulatory parameters will look. The good part is that the issues and concerns of the committee are not the sole information set that FWP will take into consideration. The State of Montana includes several opportunities for open public comment during each stage of the process. Among the committee members, the FWP personnel, and some observers there was a general sense that proper handling of this process and resulting regulations could serve as a more rational model for Idaho and Wyoming to adopt.