Montana Wildlife Commission Tackles Controversial Wolf Management Directive

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator

Highlights:

  • Following the federal delisting of gray wolves from the Endangered Species List, Governor Gianforte of Montana enacted 4 separate bills focused on increasing the tools available to improve wolf harvest and address depredation of livestock and big game concerns during the 2021 legislative session.
  • Earlier this month, the Montana Wildlife Commission voted in favor of several regulatory changes to wolf management in an effort to implement the legislative directive.
  • Despite the extremely controversial nature of wolf management, Fish Wildlife and Parks stated that Montana’s wolf population is well established, and the department believes that the population can support increased harvest without adverse biological effects.

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:

  • Night hunting on private lands
  • Use of bait for hunting/trapping on private and public lands
  • Increased harvest to 450 wolves, with potential for rapid in-season adjustments.
  • Wolf snare requirements to minimize potential for snaring and holding of non-target species, in particular grizzly bear and lynx.
  • Increased tag and bag limits
  • Expanded wolf trapping season

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.

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