For the first time, wildlife authorities in Montana will allow trapping of wolves during the 2012-13 season, which is already igniting emotions among anti-hunters and anti-trappers.
The Howling For Justice pro-wolf blog called the 4-0 vote by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission “a day of infamy.” The blog said wolves “were railroaded by the trophy hunting cabal.” One commissioner abstained from voting.
Almost simultaneously, wolf management is once again in the spotlight in Washington State, where Fish & Wildlife Director Phil Anderson recently issued a permit to a rancher in the northeast corner of the state to kill a wolf if he sees it attacking his livestock.
That rancher, identified as Bill McIrvin, was quoted by Northwest Sportsman magazine that the permit was a “feel-good token.” In a related development, state Sen.
Pam Roach (R-31st District) told TGM in a telephone interview that she is planning to introduce legislation during the next session, which convenes in January, that would provide compensation to stock growers who lose livestock to predators.
She said the bill she envisions will require that compensation be paid from the state general fund, not the wildlife account, because all citizens, including those living in urban areas far from where wolves are roaming “should share in the loss.” The veteran state lawmaker said that reimbursing farmers and ranchers for their losses should be considered “the cost of doing business in a state where wolves remain protected by a state endangered species law.
There currently is an $80,000 compensation fund for wolf predation, according to WDFW information officer Madonna Leurs in Spokane. That fund is a combination of monies that includes $50,000 set aside by the State Legislature, another $15,000 from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and $15,000 from the Defenders of Wildlife. Roach’s proposal presumably would add to that and make it a permanent budget item.
When Congress removed wolves from the federal endangered species list, that action also affected the eastern third of Washington State. Wolves in the remainder of the state, including the Cascade Mountains, remain federally protected, and are also protected across Washington by state statute.
Wolf advocates are furious about the decision by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to allow trapping during the upcoming season.
The Missoulian newspaper in Missoula quoted one critic who was furious.
“It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s barbaric and it’s uncalled for,” said Kim Bean, a Helena resident who also told the commission, “You need to stop this trapping. It’s not fair chase.” Montana’s wolf hunting season was scheduled to open for bowhunters on Sept. 1, while rifle hunters will wait until Sept. 15 for back country hunting to begin. The general rifle season opens Oct. 15 and trapping will begin on Dec. 15. All wolf seasons end next Feb. 28. The commission also approved increasing the bag limit from one to three wolves.
Battlegrounds Montana and neighboring Idaho were battleground states in the wolf management war, which may be re-ignited by the trapping provision. For wolf protectionists, losing their endangered species status was a major defeat, but now adding the opportunity for trappers to become part of Montana’s management scheme could rekindle battles.
At issue is the state’s ability to manage the growing wolf population.
Last season, according to the agency, only 166 wolves were taken by hunters when the harvest goal was 220 animals.
The state estimates there are approximately 650 wolves, including almost 40 breeding pairs.
Wolf predation became a major issue in the wildlife management battle over the past several years as reports suggested some western Montana elk herds were particularly suffering losses. In addition, Montana ranchers have been complaining about predation as the wolf populations expanded. This does not appear to be affecting all the elk herds in the state.
However, Washington’s Leurs contended that the presence of wolves has simply forced the elk to move away from more traditional hangouts to higher, rougher terrain, where they now exist in smaller bands rather than big herds.
“They’re there,” she insisted. “People just have to hunt a little harder for them. They’ve changed their behavior.” She suggested the same thing will happen in Washington as wolf populations expand. Washington’s biggest elk herds are in the Yakima area, Blue Mountains and southwest Washington.
There are also elk on the Olympic Peninsula.
Three years ago, Montana and Idaho set their first wolf hunting seasons after the animals were de-listed in those states. A court battle ensued, wolves were re-listed and then Congress passed legislation, which was signed by President Obama that removed wolves from the Endangered Species List.
That action was upheld in court by the same judge that initially returned wolf management to federal authority. His decision was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco. Last year, hunting was on again.
And now the battleground has moved farther west, into the Evergreen State.
Washington plan Last December, following many months of discussion, the state adopted a wolf management plan calling for 15 successful breeding pairs of wolves, as a statewide recovery goal, meaning the packs would ideally be spread around the state. So far, eight wolf packs have been confirmed, with six in northeast Washington, including the newly designated Wedge pack.
A successful breeding pair under the state’s protocol, according to Leurs, is one with two pups that survive until Dec. 31 of a particular year. Trapping efforts are in progress right now to check on the wolf population, and that effort will continue through September, she said.
Washington sportsmen have hardly warmed up to the wolf management program. Many believe the Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) has placed far too much emphasis on wolf re-population rather than on the recovery of Mule Deer and Black Tail Deer herds decimated by disease the past few years. This past spring, TGM chatted with a wildlife enforcement officer in Yakima County who confirmed that the mule deer herd had been slammed the past couple of years by disease.
Some Washington hunters also believe that there are more mountain lions in the state than the official estimate. They are attentive to reports of increased sightings, and many believe this is due to a ban on hound hunting for cougars and black bears that was passed by initiative some years ago. Many hunters feel that the WDFW literally “sat out” the election that saw passage of the anti-hunting initiative in 1996, and blame political correctness.