A district court judge Wednesday reopened wolf hunting and trapping seasons in two areas north of Yellowstone National Park. The areas were closed by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission on Dec. 10 in response to concern that hunters were taking wolves with collars that supplied scientific information to YNP researchers.
The areas ordered to reopen are within Wolf Management Unit 390 near Gardiner. District Judge Nels Swandal’s order suggested that FWP failed to offer sufficient public notice about the closure and set a hearing for Jan. 14. The suit challenging the FWP Commission’s decision was brought by several sporting groups and a state representative from Park County.
In July, however, when the wolf hunting and trapping seasons were adopted, in response to public comment the FWP Commission additionally directed FWP to conduct a review of the overall harvest prior to the Dec. 15 opening of the wolf trapping season to determine if season adjustments would be needed. At the time, FWP noted in press releases and on its website that the FWP Commission can close the wolf season at anytime. Montana’s wolf hunting regulations also identifies FWP Commission authority to close the wolf season.
Montana’s wolf hunting and trapping seasons are open through Feb. 28. So far, hunters have taken 102 wolves and trappers have reported taking 30 wolves. The recovery of the wolf in the northern Rockies remains one of the fastest endangered species comebacks on record. In the mid 1990s, to hasten the overall pace of wolf recovery, 66 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
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.