Montana wildlife commissioners unanimously voted on Jan. 28 to close the wolf hunting and trapping season in Region 3, which borders Yellowstone National Park, after six more wolves are taken, reports the Independent Record. Last Friday’s decision means that wolf trapping and hunting in southwestern Montana’s Region 3 will close if (or when) six more wolves are killed in the region. So far 76 wolves have already been taken by hunters and trappers in Region 3. That’s six fewer than the 82-wolf threshold that would have normally triggered a mid-season review by the commission, as outlined by the 2021-22 regulations. That original threshold of 82 wolves was not a quota, but the MFWP Commission is treating it like one after Friday’s meeting.
The decision is related to the 23 wolves that have been taken from areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park in recent months. The Associated Press reports that all 23 of these wolves were from Yellowstone packs, and they were killed when the animals crossed from federally-owned park land onto private property. Eighteen were taken in Montana’s Region 3, while three were taken in Wyoming and two in Idaho. Park officials say it’s the most Yellowstone wolves killed in one season since the large predators were reintroduced to the region more than a generation ago.
For decades, private landowners, particularly cattle ranchers, have objected to the growing wolf populations as they spill over onto private land outside the federally protected national park. And last year, wildlife officials in Montana and Idaho liberalized hunting and trapping regulations governing wolf harvest. They allowed for higher quotas on the animals, and they legalized the use of snares, night hunting, and aerial shooting.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has been at the forefront of the regional wolf debate. The AP reports that Gianforte received a warning from wildlife officials last March when he trapped and killed a collared Yellowstone wolf on a ranch 10 miles north of the National Park without first taking a required trapper education course. The governor retroactively enrolled in a trapping course, but he also made his stance on wolves abundantly clear when he explained in a Dec. 16 letter to Yellowstone’s superintendent Cam Sholly that “once a wolf exits the park and enters lands in the State of Montana, it may be harvested pursuant to regulations established by the [state wildlife] commission under Montana law.”
Earlier this month, Sholly urged Gianforte to shut down wolf hunting near the park after officials learned that 20 of Yellowstone’s wolves had already been killed so far this season. Since then, three more Yellowstone wolves have been killed in southwest Montana.
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Yellowstone officials say the park still harbors 91 wolves, while Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates Montana’s statewide wolf population at around 1,000 animals. Across the state, 190 wolves have been killed so far this season, a number MFWP says is in line with the average wolf harvest in recent years. The overall state threshold for a review by the commission is 450 wolves. Every other region besides Region 3 is well below harvest threshold numbers.