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THE EDITORIAL BOARD
What’s a gray wolf worth in Montana?
For licensed resident hunters, it’s an extra $10 for a wolf tag, $50 if you want to shoot five. Trapping is allowed, too.
For most of Yellowstone National Park’s visitors, who collectively spend tens of millions of dollars in Montana annually, wolves are part of the natural attraction that lures them to Montana from all over the world.
Meeting in Helena last week, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission reduced the limit on wolf harvest in two management units bordering YNP from two wolf kills per year in each district to one wolf kill per year. That means instead of four Yellowstone wolves being legally shot or trapped on the park border between Gardiner and Silver Gate, only two can be in the 2020-2021 season.
That two-wolf change seems small, but for the park visitors and the gateway community businesses who depend on wildlife tourism, this is a big win. Yellowstone wolves that move back and forth between the park and the Custer Gallatin National Forest will be more likely to return to the park where they can be observed and photographed by people who value them more alive than dead.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission acted after hearing more than an hour of public comment. The commission also received upwards of 900 email comments. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, among others, argued for maintaining the two-wolf limits in the park border districts. They worry about wolves killing too many elk that human hunters prize. Biologists in favor of less wolf hunting pointed out that wolves cull out sick animals and help prevent spread of illness, such as chronic wasting disease.
There is no limit on how many wolves may be hunted or trapped outside of the two Yellowstone border districts and some areas adjoining Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. In calendar year 2018, a total of 259 wolves were harvested statewide by hunters and trappers, according to FWP. In addition, a Montana law allows the taking of up to 100 wolves per year without a hunting tag if the wolves have threatened people or livestock. In 2019, seven wolves were killed under that law.
As of January 2020, the National Park Service estimated there were 94 wolves in the park. The YNP count has fluctuated between 83 and 108 wolves since 2009.
Cara McGary, of Gardiner, is one of the wolf advocates who emailed the Fish and Wildlife Commission, telling them she couldn’t attend the Helena meeting because she had a wolf watching tour to lead. She explained why wolves are valuable to her: “I am a biologist, small Montana business owner and guide in Yellowstone. While hunting doesn’t occur within the boundaries of the national park, it does impact the wildlife populations that my livelihood depends on. I run about 130 wildlife watching trips per year in Yellowstone. Everyone wants to see our large predators: wolves, grizzlies and cougars.”
It would be better to have zero wolf hunting or trapping for sport in Yellowstone Park border territory of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and Custer Gallatin National Forest. But the commission decision is a step in the right direction. Commissioners recognized that these wild predators are beneficial on that special public land.