Montana has finally found a solution to the tired question of how to manage the state's wolf population. Turns out all we had to do was think back to those pop quizzes in high school, when we figured the kid next to us had all the right answers. All we had to do was copy Idaho.
Last week, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission approved a host of new regulations for the 2012-2013 wolf-hunting season: revised quotas, adjusted reporting periods, an advanced opening day. The most notable change, however, was the addition of trapping to the wolf management equationwhich partly accounts for the staggering 6,500 comments FWP received from the public.
FWP made it abundantly clear that the latest wolf hunt regulations are intended to "dramatically increase harvest levels" to bring the population down to 425 wolves statewide. FWP commission chair Bob Ream says the addition of trapping was the only legal way to increase the per-hunter bag limit from one wolf to three. According to Montana law, the commission has the authority to set bag limits on commercial game. However, state wildlife manager Ken McDonald says the language regarding wolf licenses could be interpreted to mean a hunter can only possess one wolf tag per season. Until the legislature convenes and addresses that section of code, FWP is erring on the side of caution.
Wolf advocates had feared that Idaho's liberalized wolf-hunting season last year might foreshadow similar regulation changes here in Montana. While Idaho reported a wolf harvest of 200 in 2011, Montana only managed to bag 75 percent of its 220-wolf quotathrowing FWP's population management objective out of whack. Hunters largely blamed the harvest shortfall on restrictive rules. Idaho, they said, is doing something right.
The commission also proactively approved electronic calls for wolves, just in case the Montana legislature votes to legalize them next spring. Down the road, FWP may even consider opening trapping only in certain hunting units, potentially boosting harvest success in areas such as northwestern Montana, where hunters failed to meet last year's quotas. Both points mark an evolution in Montana's wolf management strategy.
Maybe it's just coincidence that our answers are so closely mirroring our neighbor's. That's what we used to tell our AP English teacher, anyway.