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Montana Extends Wolf Hunting Season


Montana is making it easier to hunt wolves. The wolf population has been growing even though wolf hunting is already legal. So wildlife officials are doing away with the statewide kill limit. They are nearly doubling the length of the season and the state will also allow trapping, which many conservationists call inhumane. Here's Dan Boyce with Montana Public Radio.

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks wants the state's gray wolf population somewhere around 450 animals. Biologists say as of January there were at least 650 wolves. And that was before this year's litter of pups. The state's wildlife commission sets policies, and members say those numbers are well above what state biologists consider a healthy population.

SHANE COLTON: We're not wildlife exterminators, we're wildlife managers.

BOYCE: Commissioner Shane Colton calls the new plan a balanced approach. Sportsmen and ranchers complain of the wolves lowering elk numbers in some areas and killing livestock. Lowering the wolf population too much will land them back on the Endangered Species List. They were just removed in 2011. Colton says a lot of thought went into this new plan.

COLTON: Not one specific interest group got everything it wanted. We put together something that shows sound management.

BOYCE: The new rules allow individuals to take a total of up to three wolves, through a combination of bow and rifle hunting, as well as trapping. And it's trapping that's generated widespread condemnation from wolf advocates around the country. Great Falls, Montana resident Pam Guschausky testified before the wildlife commission. She says she understands wolves need to be managed, but says hunting is the only fair way to do it.

PAM GUSCHAUSKY: In 2012 it's just mind-boggling to me that we're still talking about trapping. It's such an inhumane and torturous method.

BOYCE: Case in point, photos of an Idaho man posing near a wolf caught in a trap went viral on the Internet this past winter. The wolf was still alive, struggling around a ring of blood-soaked snow. Also speaking to the commission was Kim Bean. She worries about hiking with her dog and that the methods used to lure wolves into traps could harm her pets.

KIM BEAN: Scenting that you use for the trapping, it brings in the animals. And I've got to be honest, if my dog hits a trap we're going to have an issue. It's not right, it's not fair.

BOYCE: Commissioners have said they are turning to trapping, basically because wolves are proving really hard to shoot. Hunters alone haven't been reaching the state's quotas. Last season, hunters killed 166 wolves in Montana, falling well short of the objective of 220.

Paul Rossignol lives in Lolo, just outside of Missoula. He's glad the state is now allowing trapping. Although he says the individual kill limit should be raised even more if the state really wants to reach its population goals. That's what neighboring Idaho has done to control its wolf numbers. Rossignol thinks only a few experienced trappers would actually be taking multiple wolves.

PAUL ROSSIGNOL: These guys are the guys that know what they're doing.

BOYCE: The wildlife commission has authority under the new guidelines to close down wolf hunting in an area if the kill count rises too high. Commissioner Ron Moody says the state is still learning how to manage wolves and hunting and trapping rules will evolve over time to keep the predators in balance.

RON MOODY: What we can't do is resolve the growing value among the American society that inflicting pain upon an animal is immoral or wrong.

BOYCE: Montana's newly expanded wolf hunting season begins the first of September and runs through the end of February. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Helena.


INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dan Boyce moved to the Inside Energy team at Rocky Mountain PBS in 2014, after five years of television and radio reporting in his home state of Montana. In his most recent role as Montana Public Radio’s Capitol Bureau Chief, Dan produced daily stories on state politics and government.