August 30, 2021

Montana Wildlife Commission Tackles Controversial Wolf Management Directive

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator


Why it Matters: Despite their popularity and charismatic nature, gray wolves are just like every other species of wildlife in that they need to be properly managed in order to mitigate conflict. Unfortunately, gray wolf management is not that straight forward and fraught with controversy over what constitutes “proper” management. While both President Biden and former President Trump view gray wolves as a conservation success story, supporting their removal from the Endangered Species List, many view turning management responsibility over to the states as premature. Regardless of personal perspectives, it is clear that gray wolf management will continue to evolve as states try to find a balance between reducing wolf conflicts and maintaining a viable wolf population.

In 1974, gray wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act due to eradication efforts and a decline in prey species. 46 years later under the federal management of US Fish and Wildlife Service, the gray wolf is a conservation success story and one of only a handful of species to ever be removed from the Endangered Species List. Following federal delisting, gray wolf management was turned over to the states whose agencies are the most qualified to use the best available science to effectively manage wolf populations in their respective states. As expected, due to the charismatic nature of wolves, what constitutes sustainable and effective wolf management varies from person to person, running the gamut of perspectives ranging from “too many” to “not enough.”

During the 2021 session, Governor Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Gianforte signed 4 bills (HB 224, HB 225, SB 267, and SB 314) into law which focused on increasing the tools available to improve wolf harvest to address concerns surrounding the depredation of livestock and big game. Sponsored by Montana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Rep. Fielder, HB 224 allows for the use of snares during the trapping season and HB 225 increases the Wildlife Commission’s authority to expand the wolf trapping season. Sponsored by Montana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Brown, SB 267 allows for reimbursements for receipts of costs incurred related to the hunting or trapping of wolves while SB 314 directs the Wildlife Commission to establish by rule hunting and trapping seasons for wolves with the intent to reduce the population to a sustainable level, but not less than the number of wolves necessary to support at least 15 breeding pairs.

Earlier this month, the Montana Wildlife Commission adopted several new rules and regulations to better align the states wolf management with the legislative directive including but not limited to:

Proponents of the wolf management changes are hopeful that the expanded tools will have a positive impact on mitigating depredation issues while maintaining a healthy population to ensure management responsibility remains within the state. Opponents view these changes as unethical, voiding all forward progress in the species recovery. Following President Biden’s announcement to uphold former President Trumps decision to delist gray wolves, wolf management will remain with the state and Montana’s regulatory changes will go into effect as planned.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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