Montana's wolf-hunting season has grown increasingly liberal in three short years. What began in 2011 as an annual harvest of 220 wolves statewide—a limit of one per hunter—quickly blossomed into a quota-less system with a 76-day trapping season tacked on. Harvest figures increased from 121 in 2011 to 225 last year. Now, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is attempting to up the ante again by raising the bag limit on wolves from one per hunter to five this fall.
Public comment on FWP's proposed revision to wolf hunting regulations is open through June 24, and critics in the environmental community have already sounded off with concerns. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition praised Montana as having had "the most science-based approach" to hunting in the past—compared to significantly more controversial regulations in Idaho and Wyoming—but calls the 2013 revisions "a complete reversal."
"It is not a time for a radical departure from the grounded incremental approach Montana has taken from the beginning," Chris Colligan, a wildlife program manager with GYC, wrote in a letter to FWP officials. "Montana has been generally well respected in its balanced approach to wolf management, despite viral attacks from both sides of this controversial management issue."
The agency has defended its proposal by claiming that "a more aggressive wolf hunting season will not harm wolf populations or genetic diversity." The ultimate objective, says FWP wildlife section chief Quentin Kujala, is to reduce the wolf population at a statewide level. The bag limit increase—which comes a few months after Gov. Steve Bullock signed a measure upping the limit to three in the final days of the 2012-13 season—is simply one part of that goal.
"How much that will contribute remains to be seen," Kujala says. "Just because the bag limit is five certainly doesn't mean every wolf hunter or wolf trapper is going to take five."
The minimal estimated wolf population in Montana is currently around 650, similar to last year's count despite the removal of 377 total wolves through hunting, trapping and agency kills. Several factors make reducing the population in any noticeable way a difficult task, Kujala says. Wolves are cagey, making even a bag limit of one tough to fill. They also reproduce quickly, meaning it doesn't take long for numbers to spring back.
"To push wolf populations back," Kujala says, "you're talking upwards of 40, 50, 60 percent harvest rates."