Montana closes wolf hunting near Yellowstone

Billings, Mont. (AP) – Montana wildlife commissioners on Tuesday
shut down wolf hunting adjacent to Yellowstone National Park after
nine of the predators were killed there in recent weeks, but kept
the statewide wolf harvest quota unchanged at 75 animals.

This year’s hunt is the first since wolves came off the
endangered species list in Montana and neighboring Idaho.

Hunting had been temporarily suspended near Yellowstone last
week, after an early season backcountry harvest nearly filled the
12 wolf quota for most of the southern half of the state.

Environmentalists said the shootings near Yellowstone revealed
flaws in the Montana’s inaugural wolf hunt. They pressed for a
reduction in the quota. But others pushed for a higher quota, to
allow more hunting elsewhere in the Yellowstone region in a bid to
curb wolf attacks on livestock.

Striking a middle ground, the five-member Fish, Wildlife and
Parks Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to close the backcountry
area near Yellowstone for the remainder for the season, while
keeping the statewide quota in place.

With only three wolves left before the quota is reached for
south-central and southeastern Montana, wildlife officials said
that cap could be exceeded when the general wolf season opens in
two weeks.

But wildlife commission chairman Shane Colton said such an event
would have little consequence since the wolf population can sustain
significant losses. He also said quotas could be reduced elsewhere
later if the commission wants to hold fast at 75 wolves
statewide.

“We’re not concerned,” Colton said Tuesday. “Our 75 (wolf)
statewide quota is so much on the conservative end that we can
withstand an overrun and still have very strong numbers of wolves
across the landscape.”

Montana has an estimated 550 wolves. The quota equals 15 percent
of that population _ a figure biologists contend could be doubled
without any harm to the species.

Nevertheless, members of the commission and state wildlife
managers have acknowledged a mistake in the decision to open early
season hunting next to Yellowstone.

They’ve characterized it as a “learning experience” with no
long-term impact to wolves. Commissioner Bob Ream said he’d like to
see a subquota next year for the area next to Yellowstone so that
the wolf harvest could be spread more broadly.

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