Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission approved last week wolf hunting and trapping seasons for 2012-13.
For the upcoming seasons, hunters will have the opportunity to pursue wolves throughout Montana beginning Sept. 1 for archery hunting, Sept. 15 for backcountry rifle hunting and Oct. 15 for the general rifle season. The archery season will close Oct. 14 and the general season will end Feb. 28, 2013.
Montana’s first wolf trapping season will run Dec. 15 through Feb. 28, 2013, but to participate all prospective trappers are required to attend a certification class to learn more about what it will take to properly harvest a wolf and the need to be prepared for the challenge.
The minimum Montana wolf population estimates at the end of 2011 include 653 wolves, in 130 verified packs, and 39 breeding pairs. The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually counted by FWP wolf specialists, and likely is 10 to 30 percent fewer than the actual wolf population.
“We are clearly aiming to reduce the wolf population in Montana,” said Ken McDonald, FWP’s wildlife bureau chief in Helena. “Last year we hoped to reach a minimum population of about 425 after the hunting season, but after more than five months of hunting the population still grew from the previous year. This year we sought, and the commission approved, additional management tools to help reach a social balance that better reflects biological realities and public tolerance and values.”
While commissioners did not adopt a statewide wolf harvest quota, as they did in 2009 and 2011, they did set a quota of two wolves in Wolf Management Unit 110 and three wolves in WMU 316. Those WMUs are located near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks respectively. All harvested wolves are still required to be reported.
Commissioners also established the combined hunting and trapping bag limit at three wolves, not more than one of which may be taken while hunting. To take a wolf while hunting, a wolf hunting license is required. To take wolves while trapping, trappers are required to complete a certification class and hold a Montana trapping license.
Trappers, however, must check their traps every 48 hours and immediately report any unintended animal caught in a trap, including domestic animals. To avoid unintended captures, wolf traps must be set back 1,000 feet from trailheads and 150 feet from roads, where as Montana’s furbearer regulations generally require 300-foot set backs from trailheads and 50-foot set backs on roads. Snares and conibear traps are prohibited for wolf trapping.
In response to public comment, the commission additionally directed FWP to conduct a review of the overall harvest prior to the opening of the trapping season to determine if season adjustments are needed. FWP and the FWP Commission can close the wolf season at anytime.
Montana’s first regulated wolf hunt took place in 2009 when 72 wolves were taken by hunters, three fewer than the established quota. Last year, hunters harvested 166 wolves, about 75 percent of the quota of 220 wolves.
“We’re learning from past experience,” McDonald said. “We’re optimistic that this year’s changes reflect lessons learned and will get Montana closer to management goals that include reduced impacts to livestock and ungulate populations while maintaining a viable statewide wolf population.”
McDonald said FWP computer harvest models project that a 60 percent harvest rate in 2012-13 would result in an end-of-season wolf population of approximately 490 wolves. This modeling includes anticipated reductions due to livestock depredation and mortalities from other events, like accidents and natural causes.
“There is no question that wolves and their management stirs passion and controversy across the political spectrum,” McDonald said. “We heard from more than 6,500 people who commented on the 2012 wolf proposal and we respect each and every point-of-view expressed, but in the end we’ve been entrusted to manage all wildlife in the State of Montana and we have the gold standard of wolf conservation and management plans to guide us. Whether you love wolves or hate them, our job is to manage them in a manner that reflects their role in the ecosystem and the diverse values of the people who live, work, and recreate here. That’s the delicate balance we’re working to achieve.”
2012-13 Wolf Season Basics
- Wolf Management Units & Quotas—Montana’s wolf management units are largely built upon Montana’s elk and deer hunting districts. The statewide harvest quota, as established in 2009 and 2011, has been replaced with a general season that includes mandatory harvest reporting. There is a quota of two wolves in WMU 110 and three wolves in WMU 316. Those WMUs are located near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks respectively.
- Wolf Hunting Season Dates—Hunters will have the opportunity to pursue wolves throughout Montana beginning Sept. 1 for archery hunting, Sept. 15 for backcountry rifle hunting and Oct. 15 for the general rifle season. The archery season will close Oct. 14 and the general season will end Feb. 28, 2013.
- Wolf Trapping Season Dates—Montana’s first wolf trapping season will run Dec. 15 through Feb. 28, 2013. Prospective wolf trappers must attend a mandatory wolf-trapping certification class to use a Montana trapping license to trap wolves. To gauge interest in the upcoming wolf trapping season, FWP is asking prospective trappers to enter their name and place of residence on a certification roster. FWP will follow up this fall with a list of certification-class locations. Prospective trappers can find the sign-up roster on FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click “Wolf Trapping Certification.”
- Wolf Hunting and Trapping Harvest Limits—The combined maximum hunting and trapping bag limit is three wolves per person. One wolf can be taken by means of hunting with a valid wolf license. Trapping is authorized Dec. 15, 2012-Feb. 28, 2013 with a valid trapping license and upon completion of mandatory wolf-trapping certification. Persons could take a combination of up to one wolf via hunting and two wolves via trapping—OR three wolves via trapping (maximum harvest of three wolves per person). Snares and conibear traps are prohibited for trapping wolves.
- Wolf Hunting and Trapping Harvest Reporting—A wolf harvest must be reported to FWP within 24 hours by calling 1-800-385-7826. Successful hunters in backcountry areas will be allowed to report wolf harvests within 24 hours of reaching a trailhead with one exception. Successful hunters in WMU 316, a backcountry area with a quota, are required to report their harvests within 24 hours of taking a wolf.
- Wolf Hunting and Trapping Licenses—Wolf hunting licenses costs $19 for residents and $350 for nonresidents. License sales should begin in August. Montana trapping licenses are currently on sale and cost $20 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. Prospective wolf trappers must attend a mandatory wolf-trapping certification class to use a Montana trapping license to trap wolves.
Montana Wolf Season Background
- In 2009, during Montana’s first ever regulated wolf hunt, hunters harvested 72 wolves during the fall hunting season. As hunters approached the overall harvest quota of 75 wolves, FWP closed the hunt about two weeks before the season was scheduled to end to ensure the quota would not be exceeded.
- Montana’s 2010 hunting season was blocked by a federal court ruling in August 2010 that returned wolves to the federal endangered species list.
- In April 2011 the U.S. Congress enacted a new federal law that provided for the delisting of wolves in Montana and Idaho—and in portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah.
The law authorizes Montana to manage wolves under the state’s federally approved Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
- The 2011 wolf hunting season ended with a total harvest of 166 wolves, 75 percent of the overall quota of 220 wolves. The season was initially set to end Dec. 31, 2011, but the FWP Commission extended wolf hunting until Feb. 15 to allow hunters to reach closer to the harvest quota. The season extension resulted in the harvest of an additional 45 wolves, or about one per day.
Federal Wolf Recovery Goal for the Northern Rockies & Current Population
- The recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs—successfully reproducing wolf packs—and a minimum of 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years.
- This goal was achieved in 2002, and the wolf population has increased every year since. The northern Rockies’ “metapopulation” is comprised of wolf populations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
- Today, about 1,774 wolves in 287 packs and about 109 breeding pairs, live in the region, where wolves can travel about freely to join existing packs or form new packs. This, combined with wolf populations in Canada and Alaska, assures genetic diversity.
Montana’s Wolf Population
- In Montana, officials estimate that at least 653 wolves, in 130 verified packs, and 39 breeding pairs inhabited the state at the end of 2011.
- Delisting allows Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, guided completely by state management plans and laws.
- To learn more about Montana’s wolf population, visit FWP online at fwp.mt.gov under ‘For Fish & Wildlife Information’, click “Montana Wolves“.
Logo courtesy of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks