The Q&A below issued by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and reported by the Outdoor Wire details how that state manages its wolves, and its wolf hunting and trapping.
Q. How many wolves were harvested during the 2012-13 hunting and trapping season?
A. The total harvest was 225 wolves, 36 percent more than last season. Hunters took 128 wolves and trappers 97.
Q. How long were the hunting and trapping seasons?
A. The hunting season ran 181 days from Sept. 1, 2012 through Feb. 28, 2013. The 76-day trapping season opened Dec. 15, 2012 and closed Feb. 28, 2013.
Q. Will the final 2012 minimum wolf population estimate incorporate the results of the entire 2012-13 hunting and trapping season?
A. No. The verified minimum count is for the Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2012 calendar year. A total of 95 wolves taken by hunters and trappers after Dec. 31, 2012 are not included in the 2012 minimum count, but will be considered in the minimum counts for the 2013 calendar year.
Q. Were the seasons successful?
A. Yes. FWP officials are generally pleased with the results. The overall harvest of 225 wolves this season reflects the increased opportunities for harvest that were incorporated into the 2012-13 seasons.
Q. There's been much discussed about the effectiveness of hunting and trapping in Montana's overall wolf management program. How well did hunters and trappers perform over the past season?
A. The combined harvest of hunters and trappers together continues to grow. Hunters and trappers are the core of Montana's wildlife conservation program and are helping to manage Montana's most recently recovered native species. They're spending the time to learn about wolf behavior to increase their effectiveness in harvesting wolves.
Q. What makes hunters and trappers so engaged?
A. It's all in the numbers. A total of 18,889 wolf hunting licenses were purchased for the past season-246 by nonresidents. Additionally, more than 2,400 prospective wolf trappers participated in mandatory educational certification classes held by FWP last fall. About 1,500 of the certified trappers purchased trapping licenses. In all, 84 wolves were taken between Sept. 1, 2012 and the end of Montana's general big game hunting season, which closed Nov. 25, 2012. About 76 percent of the 84 wolves taken before Nov. 25 were taken opportunistically by hunters who were in the field hunting another species. The majority of the overall harvest, however, took place after the general hunting season by hunters and trappers who were exclusively seeking wolves.
Q. Do you think that the wolf population is now in balance?
A. Confirmed livestock loss has been on a general downward trend since 2009, and we have more tools now for affecting wolf populations. In some areas, where hunting, trapping and livestock-depredation removals have been effective, it looks like the wolf population's growth has been curbed this year. In other areas the population may be leveling off, but we have more work to do. There are still places where we need to manage for a better balance among other Montana wildlife and with Montana's livestock producers.
Q. How many wolves would come closer to the balance you talk about?
A. We are not yet sure what number of wolves will ultimately be considered the right number for Montana. Montanans have demonstrated there is a place in Montana for wolves and have worked for nearly a generation to make room for them. Montanans, in no small measure due to the state's unique private and public landownership patterns, and perhaps more than the citizens of other states, have had a direct hand in helping to recover the wolf. And while it would be an extraordinary success story for any wildlife species, the wolf's recovery hasn't been pain free for the people who live and work here. Wolves are now a part of this state's wildlife ecology and FWP is committed to managing a recovered population. FWP's legal mandate includes working on behalf of the citizens of Montana to determine what number of wolves will best fit with the other wildlife species they will share the landscape with and public tolerance, including that of landowners. FWP will continue to use reasonable tools to optimize harvest opportunities until Montana reaches an acceptable number of wolves.
Q. Can you get there with hunting and trapping alone?
A. While wolf harvest has increased each of the last three seasons, it remains to be seen how or if hunting and trapping can reduce the state's wolf population in areas where that needs to be accomplished. This year FWP sought and received from the 2013 Montana Legislature additional tools to increase the wolf harvest in the future. The wolf management bill won swift and overwhelming bipartisan legislative support and was signed into law on Feb. 13 by Gov. Steve Bullock. The new law immediately allowed hunters to purchase up to three wolf licenses and lowered the price of a nonresident wolf license from $350 to $50. The new law also allows wolf hunters to use their license 24 hours after purchase, instead of after a five-day wait; authorizes the use of electronic calls; and removes the requirement for wolf hunters to wear hunter-orange after the general deer and elk hunting seasons have ended.
Q. Can you explain why some wolves are equipped with radio collars?
A. About 50 wolves in Montana are now equipped with radio collars to allow wolf biologists and technicians to remotely keep track of the movement patterns of wolf packs and individual animals from the air and from the ground. Over the course of the past year, FWP researchers collared 24 wolves and federal Wildlife Services collared 14. Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides federal support in managing problems caused by wildlife.
Q. Sounds expensive.
A. It is. Last year the equipment alone cost nearly $12,000. FWP purchased 24 new collars and refurbished 15 others.
Q. It's clear some collared animals are taken by hunters. Why go to the expense and trouble if the wolves are harvested?
A. FWP wildlife biologists use radio collars for a variety of scientific research projects. FWP equips wildlife with collars to track movements, obtain counts, study reproduction rates and predator-prey relationships and to help researchers learn more about how, where, and why mortalities occur. In Montana, we acknowledge that the practice is time-intensive and expensive and that some collared wolves, like other animals FWP collars, will die. Hunting and trapping mortality rates are important for managers to know and are determined in part from the harvest of radio collared animals. All of this is consistent with wildlife management programs that primarily focus at the population level not on individual animals.
Q. Okay, but won't FWP manage wolves differently near Yellowstone and Glacier national parks?
A. Montana's new wolf management legislation allows FWP to close areas near national parks only after established wolf harvest quotas are met. In each of the past three wolf hunting seasons, FWP established conservative quotas in wolf management units near the national parks. Also, in signing the new legislation, Gov. Steve Bullock asked FWP to ramp up educational efforts aimed at averting the harvest of collared and heavily studied wolves near national parks.
Q. Will that resolve the issue of protecting wolves that inhabit national parks?
A. The two national parks were essentially incubators for the successful wolf recovery. Neither park, however, functions independent of the ecosystems in which they are only a part. The wolves were introduced to Yellowstone National Park, as a "nonessential experimental" population, in large part to repopulate Montana and Wyoming. Wolves introduced to YNP successfully colonized Montana by migrating north and wolves that migrated naturally from Canada to Glacier National Park migrated farther south into Montana. Such connected corridors are essential because they allow wolves to travel about freely to join existing packs or form new packs. This in part ensures the genetic diversity of wolves throughout the region. Wolves, like other species, do not recognize human-drawn boundaries. The wolves that depart the national parks-just like bison, elk and other wildlife-do so to exploit resources that aren't available to them in the parks. Fortunately, the success of the species at the current robust population levels is not dependent upon the survival of specific individual animals. Rather, management in Montana is directed at the population level and all indications are that the Montana wolf population is very healthy.