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The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission tightened wolf hunting rules near Yellowstone National Park and reduced elk shoulder seasons in west-central Montana Thursday.
The subject of elk and wolves together took up the bulk of the rule-making body’s daylong meeting in Helena, which was streamed to Fish, Wildlife and Parks Regional Offices around the state. By the time the agency’s wolf proposals came up towards the end, the commission limited commenters to 3 minutes each.
Wolf management has drawn intense debate since the state took over management of them in 2011, and commenters had plenty to share about the state’s latest proposals. In December, Fish, Wildlife and Parks had suggested reducing the hunting quotas in Wolf Management Units 313 and 316, just north of Yellowstone, from two each to one each. Then, earlier this month, it changed course and proposed keeping them at two.
For Region 1 in the state’s northwest corner, the agency had proposed extending the general wolf hunting season from Sept. 15-March 15 to Aug. 15-March 31, moving the wolf trapping season end date from Feb. 28 to March 15, and increasing the individual limit from five wolves per person to 10.
It fell to the commissioners to adopt or reject these rules. In the weeks leading up to their meeting, the wolf rules received more than 900 comments online, from as far away as Florida, Hawaii and the United Kingdom.
When it came up for discussion, Commissioner Pat Byorth motioned to keep Region 1 on the 2019 wolf hunting regulations, but accept Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ proposal to maintain districts 313’s and 316’s quotas at two wolves each. He explained that in his view, “the Region 1 proposal came late, and it’s a sea change, and it’s going to have implications for wolf management in a bunch of other regions and so to have it at this late date just doesn’t sit right with me.”
As for the wolf quotas in 313 and 316, Byorth argued that reducing them was not likely to increase wolf sightings in Yellowstone or affect the area’s elk population.
The first commenter, Illona Popper of Gardiner, called for a reduction of the Yellowstone-area districts’ quotas to one each — or, ideally, none at all. A member of the Bear Creek Council, she said that “the wolves are valued intrinsically as wildlife that is crucial to our ecosystem also for tourism, which is crucial to our economy and research, which is crucial to the world.”
But soon afterwards, Mark Lambrecht, director of government affairs for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said that group supported the department’s proposals to both expand offerings in Region 1 and maintain the quotas at two near Yellowstone. “Wolves, like other wildlife, require management according to biological and social capacities. For those reasons, we support the proposal.”