Proposed 2012 MT Wolf Season Will Only Insure More Wolves In 2013!
Editorial News/Press Release May 12, 2012 MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks Really Doesn't Want Wolves Killed
On the surface, or to those who really haven't taken the time to scrutinize the Montana hunting regulations for wolves and other major predators, the state's proposed 2012 Wolf Hunting Regulations may appear to be a much more aggressive approach to curbing the number of wolves in the state. But, is it really? Will an extended season, the elimination of a statewide quota, permitting the take of three wolves, allowing the use of electronic game calls, and trapping put a big dent in a wolf population that has decimated big game herds up and down the western side of the state - and which is now moving eastward?
While some residents of the state, and especially several agenda driven state and regional wildlife and sportsman's groups praised the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission proposal for including such changes for the upcoming hunting season, many more saw right through the latest "smoke and mirrors" FWP proposal presented at the Commission Meeting in Helena on May 10, 2012. Sportsmen who are concerned about the continued dramatic decline in elk and other big game numbers, and ranchers who are realizing far greater wolf impact on livestock production than acknowledged by FWP, say the proposal does not go far enough.
(Photo above - Relaxed wolf hunting regulations in Idaho resulted in 378 wolves being taken during the 2011 season...the stringent regulations imposed in Montana resulted in just 166 wolves being taken that season.)
The state has now conducted two wolf hunting seasons, in 2009 and in 2011 - neither of which ever filled the established quota. In 2009, FWP prematurely closed the season when hunters approached the 75 quota for that first ever wolf season in the state. Last year, when it was evident that hunters were not going to fill the 220 quota by the December 31 closing date, the FWP Commission extended the season until February 15. Even so, only 166 wolves were taken - with 11 of the 14 Wolf Management Units failing to tag out.
Hunters and rural land owners who participated in those seasons point an accusing finger at FWP's overly restrictive "methods of take" allowed. And other than the proposed legalization of electronic calls and the use of traps, not much else has changed. If anything, should the proposal be adopted as it is, there could be a few more restrictions in regard to how hunters take their wolf, or wolves.
Baits, scents and dogs have not been allowed during the past two Montana wolf hunting seasons - and are still prohibited during the proposed 2012 season. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has long had a ban against using baits and scents for black bear as well. Still, they allow deer and elk hunters to use scents. In the same light, FWP has no problem with hunters using hounds to tree mountain lions, but prohibits the use of dogs for hunting bears - and wolves.
The FWP Commission and agency throw around the term "fair chase" fairly often, claiming that advantages such as using bait and scents to lure predators to within easy shooting distance violates "fair chase". Still, next door in both Idaho and Wyoming, the use of scents and baits for bear and other major predators is perfectly legal. Do those within FWP consider Idaho and Wyoming hunters "unethical"? In most all other states where bear seasons are held, the use of hunting scents is permitted, and a large number of them do allow the use of bait.
(Photo at right shows two of the 124 wolves that were trapped in Idaho during the 2011 season.)
As expected, the topic of allowing the use of traps to harvest wolves late in the 2012 wolf season came under the heaviest fire during the May 10 Commission meeting. There to oppose the use of traps were members and followers of such organizations as the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Footloose Montana, and several other similar groups - which oppose trapping altogether. However, those commenting in opposition of allowing the trapping of wolves made up less than 25-
percent of the long line of hunters, trappers, residents and visiting tourists who shared their feelings about the wolf hunting proposal. Of the 75-percent or so who openly favored a more aggressive effort to reduce wolf numbers, the majority tended to feel that the proposal was not aggressive enough, nor did it go far enough to achieve the goal of reducing wolf numbers.
During his presentation of the proposed changes, Quentin Kujala of FWP's Wildlife Bureau shared that in Idaho hunters and trappers had taken 378 wolves, of which a third (124) had been taken by trappers. He shared that trapping could play a major role in taking the 377 wolves FWP hoped to see removed this fall and winter. Using their math, that would take the statewide wolf population down to "at least" 425. However, due to the more stringent trapping restrictions outlined in the 2012 wolf season proposal, those attending the meeting knew that such a harvest would be impossible.
Of the 124 wolves "trapped" in Idaho, 68% had been taken with snares. The 2012 Montana wolf season proposal specifically states "snares may not be used to take wolves." Among other restrictions that did not set well with a number of trappers at the meeting included, "No trap may be set within 30 feet of an exposed carcass or bait that is visible from above." While all choosing to trap wolves this next season are required to attend a "wolf trapping orientation class" to receive certification to trap wolves, they are not required to obtain a furbearer (trapping) license. Hunters and trappers are simply required to hold a "2012 Wolf Season" license...which does not allow the use of scents. Without the use of bait and scents, and snares, trapping wolves will become extremely difficult.
The Montana Wildlife Federation, and several of its affiliated sportsman's associations across the state where quick to fully endorse the MT FWP 2012 Wolf Season proposal, including the trapping regulations proposed. These groups tend to support a more reserved, slower and softer approach to wolf management, claiming that if a too aggressive effort is made to dramatically reduce wolf numbers, Montanans stand the chance of seeing the wolf relisted under the Endangered Species Act. Their endorsement of the proposed wolf trapping requirements told many at the meeting that these groups also realize that, as currently proposed, the overly stringent regulations will insure a low trapping harvest.
(The photo above shows a wolf feeding on a beef cracass...on a slope overlooking the city of Missoula, MT.)
One sportsman based organization attending the meeting to support even more aggressive wolf control than outlined by the FWP proposal was Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. Keith Kubista, president of MT SFW, said, "Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Commission, need to target wolf population objectives to be in the range and threshold that balances predator-prey relationship. If you look back at the trends and history it is apparent that in 2005-2006 the growing number of wolves created the declines in big game populations, and livestock predation increased as well. The wolf population at that time went from "at least" 150 to 250, and that is when big trouble began. Consequently the short term wolf population objective or target should be more in line with these numbers."
Montana State Representative Champ Edmund, of Missoula, cautioned the Commission not to throw around the number "425" as their acceptable target goal since it is far greater than the number of wolves acknowledged as a "recovered population" in the 1994 Environmental Impact Statement. That number was 100 wolves with 10 breeding pairs in each of three states - Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Both Montana FWP and Idaho F&G then arbitrarily factored in a 50 wolf buffer, calling for 150 wolves with 15 breeding pairs. The feeling is, now knowing the destructive impact of wolves, that "425" sets the bar of acceptability at nearly three times what Montana residents felt was "enough wolves" - at three times what is acceptable.
It is the number of wolves in Montana which continues to be the biggest discrepancy between what FWP claims and what the several hundred thousand big game hunters, rural residents and ranchers claim. In his presentation at the May 10 Commission meeting, FWP's Quentin Kujala stated that the current "at least" wolf population has been calculated by a computer model to be 653 wolves. The agency also acknowledges there are a total of 130 wolf packs, 39 of which have a breeding pair. But there tends to be a lot of unexplained holes in FWP's math. Take their population estimate of 653, then subtract the 377 harvest they are hoping for, and the remaining population would be 276 wolves, not 425.
(The trail camera photo shown here captured a wolf pack that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks knew nothing of, which likely describes the majority of wolf packs in the state.)
During a meeting in Kalispell last November, FWP Region 1 Wildlife Manager Jim Williams told the crowd that, in Region 1 alone, there were 44 known packs, averaging 7 wolves per pack. For those who have witnessed the widespread destruction wolves have dealt the region's wildlife resources, they now fully realize that FWP is only aware of about half, or less, the number of wolves in the northwest corner of Montana. Elsewhere up and down the western side of the state, Montana residents now feel that the wolf population far exceeds 2,000.
Residents who have seen the elk, moose and deer disappear right along with hunting opportunities have grown weary of FWP's inability to accurately assess wolf numbers. Likewise, they don't believe FWP claims that elk numbers are at or above objective - when tens of thousands of square miles of prime elk habitat are now void of elk. The Bitterroot Mountains, the Cabinet Mountains, the Mission Mountains, the Yaak Mountains, the Sapphire Mountains and the majority of other mountain ranges which once teamed with elk and other big game have become wildlife wastelands. More and more, Montanans are now blaming new wave wildlife biologists and wildlife managers who now spend much more time working with wildlife models on computers than with wildlife out in the wild.
Dr. Richard Mitchell, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, commented on how FWP had been "duped" by the federal agency for which he worked back during the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project. Mitchell accused USFWS of purposely violating the Endangered Species Act by transplanting a wolf that was in no way "endangered" in its native Canadian habitat. He pointed out that the agency ignored the "subspecies differentiation" between the native wolf (Canis lupus irremotus) and the transplanted wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis), which led to the total loss of the wolf indigenous to Montana.
(Photo here shows typical wolf waste...leaving more to rot and feed scavengers than consumed by the wolf or wolves. Each wolf is now suspected of killing 50 or more animals annually.)
Mitchell commented, "All wolves and their offspring should be removed from Montana."
The damage has been done, and even if that were possible, the majority of the sportsmen who attended the Commission meeting now fully realize that it will take 30 to 40 years to bring big game populations back to the levels that existed before Canadian wolves were unleashed on the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains. However, almost unanimously sportsmen also accept that any level of recovery is impossible unless wolves are totally eliminated, or at the very least wolf numbers are taken back down to between the 100 established as the "recovery goal" before non-indigenous wolves were released and the 150 count MT FWP accepted on its own to give the agency a safety margin of keeping wolves off the endangered species list.
With 2012 being a key election year, right in the middle of an economic down turn and with public trust of the government at an all time low, wolves will continue to be a huge election issue in Montana and the rest of the Northern Rockies. So much so, that a majority of those now running for Governor have made it a campaign promise to take major steps to expediently control wolf numbers down to the level at which they can then be managed. Gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill looks at dividing the state into two zones - an "Aggressive Management Zone" where wolves have already devastated other wildlife populations, and a "No Tolerance Zone" to stop their spread eastward. Several others, including Ken Miller and Jim Lynch, say they would push to have the wolf classified as a "shoot on sight" predator, 365 days a year, the same as a coyote. Neil Livingstone says we should transplant wolves into New York City and Washington D.C., so those living there can experience what it is like to be forced to live with something that very few Montana residents wanted in the first place.
(Photo above shows MT Gubernatorial candidate Bob Fanning (center) attending a wolf protest rally in Bozeman, MT.)
The only gubernatorial candidate to show up at the May 10 Commission meeting was Robert Fanning, of Pray, MT. His first comment was that the meeting reminded him of the old Bill Murray movie, "Groundhog Day" - where different things may happen and be discussed, but come tomorrow it would all still be the same. He then reminded the Commission of how many times in the past the State of Montana and the federal government promised wolf management and wolf control - and how each time ended in failure or no action at all.
Mostly, Fanning posed questions in regard to flaws or holes he saw in the 2012 Wolf Season proposal. He specifically wanted to know, "How does this plan differentiate between the rights of private land owners and livestock producers and their lethal control actions versus 'fair chase' by trappers and hunters on public lands?"
He also wanted to know if the Commission thought the proposal adequately protected every Montanan's "right to hunt" as promised in the State Constitution. This candidate for governor inquired about proper restitution for the harm caused by a decade of delay in delisting wolves, and funding the restoration of game herds to healthy and abundant numbers. He also wanted to know about the records FWP has promised on several occasions which would document the diseases and parasites carried by the several hundred wolves which have been taken by official control actions. Where are they?
Likely the most pointed question Bob Fanning asked of the Commission was, "How binding will what you decide here be when the new administration steps in?"
There's a lot more on the line here than the "fair chase" hunting and trapping of wolves this coming fall and winter. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH