Montana looks to expand hunting of wolves despite criticism

Sun May 12, 2013 5:11am EDT

A wolf pack is pictured bedded down in the snow in Yellowstone National Park in this March 2007 photograph obtained on May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Smith/National Park Service/Handout

A wolf pack is pictured bedded down in the snow in Yellowstone National Park in this March 2007 photograph obtained on May 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Doug Smith/National Park Service/Handout

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(Reuters) - Conservationists are criticizing a plan by wildlife managers in Montana that would nearly double the number of wolves a person is allowed to kill each year, lengthen the hunting season and sanction shooting of wolves near baited traps.

The proposal by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission officially begins receiving public comment on Monday and is to be voted on by commissioners this summer.

The aim is to reduce the state's wolf population, estimated at 625, by giving more leeway to hunters and trappers, wildlife officials said.

"Our overall goal is to get wolves in balance with the rest of the critters on the landscape as well as landowner tolerance," said agency spokesman Ron Aasheim.

Wolves in Montana and Idaho were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in 2011, opening the way for state-licensed hunting and trapping. The animals were taken off the list last year in Wyoming, where they can be killed on sight except in regulated hunting areas.

In the mid-1990s, wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies over the objections of ranchers and outfitters, who say the predators are a threat to livestock and big-game animals like elk. But conservationists applauded the restoration after past extermination campaigns pushed wolves toward extinction.

The new allowances for wolf hunting appear to have led to a decrease in their population. An estimated 1,674 wolves roamed the Northern Rockies region in 2012, a drop of nearly 7 percent from 2011, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the Montana plan, the hunting season for wolves would open in September and close at the end of March instead of February. Also, the number of wolves that could be killed in a given calendar year would climb to 10 from six per person and a wolf could be shot if the animal were drawn to a baited trap but not captured.

That last change would serve as an exception to an existing prohibition in Montana that forbids hunters from attracting game with bait to shoot it.

Wolves of the Rockies, a conservation group in Montana, said the extension of the hunting season meant wolves in an advanced stage of gestation would be fair game.

"Now we're going to hunt pregnant wolves. That's a sad day," said Marc Cooke, president of the group.

Anti-trapping organization Footloose Montana and conservation group WildEarth Guardians also voiced opposition to the plan.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which favors the sport of elk hunting, welcomed it.

"States are doing what they can to keep wolves in check and we support that," said spokesman Mark Holyoak.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (7)
pavoter1946 wrote:
Lure a wolf to a baited trap, and then be able to shoot them? That is not hunting. That is not sport. That is disgusting. Wolves are a critical part of the dynamics of wildlife, keeping the fit more fit, and taking out the weak.

May 12, 2013 11:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
tatman wrote:
this makes me sick. this is pure slaughter to satisfy the bloodlust of americans with their guns. abhorrent.

May 12, 2013 12:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Harry079 wrote:
The government pays to exterminated the wolf then it pays to bring them back and now it wants to kill them off again?

Montana with a whopping 625 wolves will allow each hunter/trapper to kill up to 10 wolves per season it wouldn’t take a whole lot of hunters to put a big dent in that number.

May 12, 2013 12:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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