HELENA — Wolf hunting will look significantly different in Montana this year, with Fish and Wildlife Commission approving new quota and hunting methods for the predators at their Friday meeting.
In a split 3-2 decision, for the upcoming hunting season, a statewide quota of 450 wolves was approved, almost 40 percent of the estimated population according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) data presented Friday. There were also individual harvest quotas set for each region that will allow FWP to close hunting should there be too many harvested at a time.
When the state’s or a regional quota is reached, the commission will convene to discuss further options during the season including increasing the number of wolves harvested.
Hunters are able to possess 10 wolf licenses and trappers are allowed a bag limit of 10 wolves. Each wolf harvested must be reported to the state within 24-hours.
The commission approved the neck-snare trapping of wolves and instructed FWP to establish education to inform hunters about good practices and how to avoid conflict with non-target animals such as dogs. If a non-target animal like a lynx or grizzly is snared, the commission will also meet to discuss potential immediate changes during the season.
The commission also approved controversial bait hunting and night hunting on private land of wolves.
Opposing Commissioners KC Walsh and Pat Byorth specifically objected to that aspect of the new rules, noting the ethics of what constituted “fair chase.” Baiting is not allowed for any other animals legally hunted in the state.
“It gives permission to behavior that we’ve been fighting and our game wardens fight on a daily basis, and now we’re giving permission all out of a desire to kill more wolves,” said Byorth. “We could kill more wolves with snares or public land- or private land I’d prefer. But there’s no reason to night hunt. There’s no reason to use bait.”
Vice-Chair Tabor said baiting, night hunting, and methods like snares are necessary to have better success for hunting the animals.
“These are tools. They’re not tools for everybody, but they allow for more opportunity for hunters to give them in essence better odds to be successful because they are an incredibly difficult animal to hunt,” responded Tabor.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed three bills revising laws on harvesting wolves. Senate Bill 314, sponsored by Sen. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, specifically tasked the commission with reducing Montana’s wolf population to “a sustainable level.” It authorized them to consider increasing the number of wolves someone can take with a single license, allowing the use of bait while hunting and trapping wolves, and permitting hunting wolves at night on private lands.
House Bill 224 and 225 were both sponsored by Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls. HB 224 required the commission to allow the use of snares for wolf trapping, and HB 225 said they could extend the wolf trapping season.
The commission received more than 25,000 public comments on the matter, with the majority coming from out of state. Of the 19,000 letters received, about 1,000 originated from addresses within Montana, which FWP says were about evenly split between support for increased harvest and opposition to any taking of wolves.
Opponents raised several issues on Friday at the meeting, specifically that the new rules were politically based rather than scientific, ecosystems largely depending on wolves suffering and believing snares were inhumane.
Proponents that spoke said snares and baiting were necessary due to the rising number of wolves in the state.
The Associated Press reported Friday the Biden administration said they’re sticking by the decision under former President Donald Trump to lift protections for gray wolves across most of the United States. However, they did have concerns about overly aggressive hunter practices being proposed in states like Montana and worry it may lead to the animal needing protection once again.