The 2013-14 hunting season is well underway in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and wolves—more specifically, dead wolves—have once again become a topic of conversation in the Northern Rockies. Last month, a hunter rolled into Jackson Hole, Wyo. with a dead wolf strapped to the roof of his SUV. Not long after, a resident in Lolo shot and killed what he believed was a wolf on private property. The animal turned out to be a wolf-dog hybrid.
Meanwhile, hunters have so far taken 75 wolves statewide in Montana's fourth wolf hunting season since the species was delisted. It's the most liberalized hunt yet, with nearly 6,000 permits issued and no harvest quotas across most of the state. Montana's second wolf trapping season is just around the corner, too. And the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission will soon host a series of public forums regarding revisions to the agency's administrative rules on wolf management.
Those revisions were undertaken to reflect the passage earlier this year of Senate Bill 200, a measure allowing landowners to kill wolves on private property without a permit. In response to the new law, FWP proposes to remove a startling amount of language from its administrative rules, including a detailed list of indicators used to measure a recovered population. The agency even struck out wording that establishes its own responsibility for lethal control decisions regarding wolves.
The need for such revisions is an understandable by-product of the species' success. As wolves prosper, they can pose a growing threat to the livelihoods of many in the state. Protecting the livestock industry has long been one of Montana's four guiding principles in wolf recovery. Ensuring public safety is another.
However, FWP's benchmark for when landowners can legally shoot wolves leaves something to be desired. A wolf need only present a "potential threat" to humans, livestock or dogs. That doesn't include wolves that "might routinely use an area as free-ranging wildlife," and the FWP Commission is required to set a statewide quota for such kills. But what constitutes a potential threat is left largely to the imagination of those with land, a gun and—quite possibly—an unflinching hatred for the species.