For an anniversary so steeped in controversy, last Saturday passed with little acknowledgment in Montana. Graduates at Montana State University snored through commencement. Folks in Missoula flocked to BrewFest. And off in some remote corner of the state, a wolf stalked its prey.
On May 5, 2011, wolves in the Rockies were formally removed from the endangered species list. The jury's still out on what the next year will bring.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar initially called the delisting a "tremendous success story for the Endangered Species Act." Politicians lauded the move. Hunters and ranchers applauded. But it didn't take long for the situation to deteriorate. Conservationists called bullshit, claiming the act of Congress that led to the de-listing had set a dangerous precedent and that the worst was yet to come.
With the species now under state management, Montana officials quickly pulled together regulations for a fall wolf hunt. Idaho did the same. Montana set a quota of 220 wolves for the season; Idaho tossed any thoughts of a quota. Montana stuck to a fair-chase model; Idahodidn't. Montana avoided trapping; Idaho allowed it.
By the end of the season, Montana hunters had killed 166 wolves. Idaho hunters claimed 345 wolves𤻋 by firearm and 102 by trapping.
Now, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is pushing for more liberal regulations in 2012. The discussion's just begun, but it's clear the agency has looked to Idaho as a model. FWP Director Joe Maurier wants to be "much more aggressive in our proposals." Trapping is officially on the table.
We understand the need to manage wildlife populations at the state level, especially prolific apex predators like the wolf. But with that comes responsibility and a need for rational debate about how state officials manage our wildlife. Instead, fear and hatred have dominated the landscape. Counties have responded to public anxiety with talk of bounty programs on wolves. Organizations have offered cash rewards for confirmed kills. Some wolf advocates have boycotted Montana-made products until the state calls off its hunts.
The driving attitude is still pro-wolf versus anti-wolf. It's childish, it's unproductive and it's irresponsible. Regardless of how it came about, management is now in our hands. But looking back on the past year, we're not convinced they're the right ones.