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Montana wildlife commissioners set limit on wolf hunting near Yellowstone

A wolf on the shore of Yellowstone Lake
Neal Herbert
Yellowstone National Park/Flickr
A wolf on the shore of Yellowstone Lake

Montana fish and wildlife commissioners voted last week to re-establish a quota on wolves hunted along the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

After initially setting the quota in a hunting management unit north of the park at 10 wolves, commissioners reduced it to 6.

Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Pat Tabor, who brought the amendment, said the number was requested directly by Yellowstone National Park.

The park’s lead wolf biologist, Doug Smith, supported the lower number, and encouraged the commission to understand the impacts of last year’s hunt, which killed a fifth of the park’s wolves.

Almost all of the 21 wolves killed in the two hunting units bordering the park "were pack wolves,” Smith told the commission. “They are wolves with residents in packs whose territories are 95% in Yellowstone Park. So the park boundary just clips their territory edges.

“And so they'll come out. And they'll be harvested.”

The collaboration between the commission and Yellowstone National Park is a noticeable change from last year, when park officials’ requests to Gov. Greg Gianforte asking him to suspend the season were ignored.

Tensions in the room ran high during Thursday's meeting. The commission restricted comments to one minute instead of the usual two; nearly 100 people — most of them opposing Montana’s current wolf hunting and trapping regulations — gave comments over the course of two hours.

Some argued the commission has failed to incorporate the views of constituents outside of hunters, trappers and ranchers. Many people came from communities bordering Yellowstone, saying that last year’s wolf hunt directly harmed their economies.

“What none of our businesses want is the same sort of marketing debacle that arose last year when 21 wolves from Yellowstone were harvested due to a radical change in the quota, the results of which we are still seeing in terms of reduced in-park sightings,” said Virginia Miller, speaking on behalf of the Wild Livelihoods Business Coalition in Park County.

“Our businesses are not anti-ranching or anti-hunting,” she said. “Our issue is when this commission is ignoring the social requests of the vast majority of local citizens and citizens and businesses.”

Like last year, FWP recommended setting a statewide hunting and trapping quota of 450 wolves. During the 2021-22 season, 273 wolves were hunted or trapped in Montana; the previous season was 328 wolves.

In 2021 the state's wolf population was an estimated 1,144. There is also a separate 100-wolf quota allowing landowners to “take” a wolf on their property at any time without a license.

Brian Wakeling with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the hunting quotas are consistent with legislative directions to reduce the statewide wolf population.

“In order to get any population to decline, you need a harvest somewhere in the neighborhood, the human mortality component of that has to approach 30%," he said.