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By Tom Kuglin
Gov. Greg Gianforte on Friday signed bills allowing snares to be used for the trapping of wolves and lengthening Montana’s trapping seasons.
House Bill 224 and House Bill 225, brought by Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, are two of multiple high-profile bills dealing with wolves and trapping that have seen significant debate this session. SB 224 adds snares to the list of legal traps for wolves; previously only foothold traps were allowed. HB 225 extends wolf trapping seasons by two weeks earlier and two weeks later. Unless adjusted by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, the season will start the first Monday after Thanksgiving and run until March 15.
Brooke Stroyke, a spokesperson for Gianforte, said the governor signed the bills to support “the continuing efforts to manage this species and to balance the concerns of communities across the state.”
“Gov. Gianforte wants to provide Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission with additional tools for wolf management in the state,” she said. “Wolf populations must be managed in order to achieve objectives laid out in law and policy, along with every other species under state jurisdiction.”
The bills were supported by trapping, outfitting and some livestock groups. Fielder said the bills would allow additional wolf harvest in areas such as northwest Montana were hunter success on elk has slumped in recent years.
Overall, elk counts in the northwest are within population objectives, although are below in a couple of hunting districts, according to FWP. In many areas of the state, elk numbers are well above objectives.
The bills were opposed by a number of groups opposed to trapping, as well as some groups that support trapping but felt the bills went too far or that decisions should be made by the commission rather than the Legislature. Opponents argued increased killing of wolves could harm tourism and reduce wolves as a natural predator in Montana’s ecosystem.
FWP estimates roughly 1,200 wolves are in the state and that trappers and hunters take about 400 animals annually.
SB 224 and 225 are two of four controversial bills intended to reduce Montana’s wolf population.
Sen. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, brought Senate Bills 267 and 314, which have also advanced mostly along party lines.
SB 267 would allow reimbursement for expenses related to hunting or trapping a wolf. The measure has passed the Legislature after a number of at times contentious debates, as opponents characterized the bill as akin to a bounty on the animals.
SB 314 directs FWP to reduce wolf numbers and says the commission may use the most liberal regulations in regions with the greatest numbers of wolves. Under the bill, the commission may consider unlimited harvest by individual trappers or hunters, use of bait for hunting and private land hunting of wolves at night using artificial light or night vision scopes.
SB 314 has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the full House.
Gianforte’s own wolf trapping became a national news story last month after the Mountain West News Bureau reported he had trapped and killed a wolf north of Gardiner in February. The governor received a written warning from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for doing so without first completing a mandatory education class.
While wolf trapping has required a class for certification since it became legal in 2012, trapping for other species has not had mandatory education. On Friday, Gianforte also signed Senate Bill 60 from Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, which makes trapping education required.
The bill does allow some exceptions, such as for those that have purchased a trapping license the previous three years, or for trapping in the protection of livestock.