FWP commission extends wolf hunt to Feb. 15

Helena, Mont. (AP) – Montana on Thursday extended its wolf hunt
to Feb. 15 as the number of predators killed so far has fallen far
short of the quota of 220 animals.

The state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission also approved a
plan to allow hunters to assist state and federal officials in
killing problem wolves that prey on livestock, a duty that
previously solely belonged to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Wildlife Services.

The commission kicked off its two-day December meeting by giving
hunters additional time to meet this year’s wolf quota. To date,
hunters have killed just 106 wolves.

FWP officials say the 220-wolf quota would reduce the predators’
population in the state by 25 percent to an estimated 425 wolves.
They say such a drop in wolf numbers would reduce instances of wolf
attacks on livestock and big game, therefore easing tensions with
ranchers and hunters, while maintaining a viable and connected wolf
population.

The commission had originally considered extending the season
from the original Dec. 31 closure to Jan. 31, but then decided to
extend it into February to give hunters an even better chance of
meeting the quota.

The commission also said wolf hunters won’t have to wear orange
outside of deer and elk season.

Conservationists opposed the extension. Mark Cook of the
National Wolf Watchers Coalition said the commission “shouldn’t
keep shifting the goalposts.”

But the ranchers and hunters who outnumbered the
conservationists at the meeting said the commission should go even
further and keep the hunting season open until the quota is
filled.

“The people who are not in favor of this don’t have anything to
lose. When I say they don’t have anything to lose, it’s not
affecting their pocketbook,” said Brian Quigley of the Rocky
Mountain Stockgrowers Association.

This year’s hunt is the state’s second and its first since
Congress earlier this year removed federal endangered species
protections for the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountain states
except Wyoming. A wolf hunting season also is under way in Idaho,
where 154 wolves have been shot or trapped since Aug. 30.

Hunters killed 72 wolves in Montana’s first wolf hunt in
2009.

FWP commissioners also unanimously approved the proposal to
allow a livestock owner to select a hunter to respond to a wolf
attack. Until now, if the federal Wildlife Services confirmed a
reported wolf attack and determined lethal removal is needed, only
its agents would be sent to kill the problem animals.

Wildlife Service agents had killed 47 wolves that way through
November.

The new proposal allowing hunters to do the job would ensure a
fast response to attacks the agency said.

Hunters wouldn’t replace Wildlife Services, but would be an
additional option, FWP officials said.

Livestock owners and their designated hunters will need Wildlife
Services approval before taking lethal action. Hunters could only
be used when wildlife officials don’t require the age, sex, color
or identity of the wolf or wolves to be known before they are
killed.

Commission chairman Bob Ream voted for the proposal despite
expressing skepticism that a livestock owner would be able to pick
his own hunter instead of choosing one from a pre-approved roster
of hunters.

Commissioner Shane Colton said the program would have to be
watched closely to make sure there was no cronyism or quid pro quo
involved in how hunters are chosen.

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