U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
to explore relisting the gray wolf
On opening day of Montana’s wolf hunting season, the agency says concerns about human-caused population declines warrant further study.
By Amanda Eggert,
Montana Free Press
On opening day of Montana’s expanded wolf-hunting season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it has decided to conduct an in-depth status review to determine whether state management plans aiming to aggressively reduce wolf populations threaten the recovery of gray wolves.
The agency now has a year to conduct a further review of the species using the best available science to determine whether listing under the Endangered Species Act is
The process was initiated this summer when environmental groups asked the agency to relist the animals through two separate petitions. The groups filed the petitions after lawmakers in Montana and Idaho passed laws that encouraged aggressive population reduction by broadening the methods hunters could use to harvest wolves and expanding the trapping season.
In a release about the decision, the agency wrote that the two petitions presented “substantial information that potential
increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.” and that the “new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat.” The two other options before the agency included denying the petition, which would have maintained the status quo, or implementing an emergency relisting, which was what the environmental groups had asked for.
For now, existing management plans in Idaho and Montana will not be impacted by the agency’s review, according to FWS spokesperson Joe Szuszwalak, which means current hunting regulations in those states will remain in effect.
“FWP looks forward to working with the USFWS on the review they’re undertaking and will provide them with any information they need. Montana has successfully managed wolves for more than a decade and can continue to do so in a fashion that keeps their numbers at sustainable levels above minimum thresholds,” FWP spokesperson Greg Lemon said in an emailed statement.
Measures passed by Idaho and Montana lawmakers this spring drew intense scrutiny at both the state and federal level, with
Montana’s legalization of snaring, expanded trapping season and hunter reimbursement proposals collectively garnering more than 2,200 comments, most in opposition.
After Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law proposals that expanded the trapping season, removed bag limits, authorized reimbursement for wolf harvests, and legalized neck snares and bait-aided and night hunting, the pressure campaign shifted.
Comments poured into the inboxes of
Montana Fish and Wildlife Commissioners and federal agency heads, including U.S.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S.
Forest Service leadership, which was asked to ban wolf trapping in wilderness areas.
The latest request came in the form of a letter submitted by dozens of tribal leaders asking Haaland to place wolves back on the endangered species list due to concerns about states’ management policies for wolves.
On Wednesday, the opening day of
Montana’s wolf hunting season, and several weeks past the 90-day window FWS had to evaluate the Center for Biological Diversity’s relisting petition, the agency decided a closer look at state management of wolves is
Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said, “It’s been a pretty nonstop effort” that has included action from more than 25,000 of the organization’s members.
“I think it just shows that people around the country are pretty outraged as to what’s going on,” she said.
Zaccardi said she offered comment at the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meetings where commissioners weighed 2021 wolf hunting regulations and was dismayed to see commissioners disregard the recommendations of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks staff biologists on a number of proposals, including night hunting and the use
of snares on public lands.
“We need to revisit how wildlife decisions are made in the states and the makeup of commissions that are making those decisions,” she said. “It was pretty clear that the trappers had the state’s ear and the commission was going to do whatever the trappers wanted and ignore everybody else. It’s been extremely frustrating.”
“It’s tragic — and perhaps not coincidental — that this finding comes on the same day that the state of Montana has unleashed hunters to kill hundreds of wolves throughout the state, including on the edge of Yellowstone National Park,” WildEarth Guardians Executive Director John Horning said in an emailed statement. WildEarth Guardians is one of the groups that filed the later petition.
FWP drew up regulations for the 2021-2022 season that allow individuals to take up to 10 wolves per season through a combination of hunting and trapping. In a departure from previous wolf-hunting regulations, hunting with bait is now allowed, as is using artificial lights and night vision scopes when hunting for wolves on private land. There’s a provision in the regulations that initiates commission review once 450 wolves have been harvested with potential for “rapid in-season adjustments” to regulations. If harvests exceed a threshold set for each of seven management regions, that also triggers commission review. Region One has the highest such threshold with 195 wolves. Review is also required if a grizzly bear or lynx is
captured in a wolf trap or snare.
Idaho’s regulations don’t include daily or seasonal limits, and establish a year-round trapping season on private lands. Pursuing wolves with hounds, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles is allowed. Existing regulations allowed for hunter reimbursement for harvest — characterized by critics as a bounty — but the new law goes a step further and authorizes the state to pay private contractors to kill wolves.
The Montana Trappers Association and Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who sponsored the bills extending the wolf
trapping season and legalizing neck snares for wolves, had not responded to a request for comment by press time Wednesday
Gianforte posted a statement about the decision on Facebook Wednesday afternoon alleging federal overreach into the state’s wildlife management plans.
“Montana has been effectively managing our wolf population for years, and we don’t need Washington coming in and second guessing our science-based approach. Montana’s new regulations have been carefully crafted and reflect our commitment to ensuring a sustainable wolf population in the state,” he said.
Zaccardi added that the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice of intent to sue Idaho and Montana over the states’ new trapping regulations. They say neck snares and expanded trapping regulations present a threat to grizzly bear and lynx recovery. Both animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act and share habitat with gray wolves.
The agency is expected to conclude its status assessment of gray wolves early next summer.
This story was updated Sept. 16, 2021,
with comments from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, WildEarth Guardians, and
Gov. Gianforte. (Printed with permission)
Did you know? Montana has 9 National Park Service
areas to explore on National Public Lands Day ?
Not many would argue that Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks are well-worth a visit on Public Lands Day – or any day for that matter. But did you know that Montana boasts seven additional nationally registered trails, monuments, parks and historical sites? Can you name them without reading on?
Ok. Here they are: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Nez Perce National Historical Park, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Big Hole National Battlefield, the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site and the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
The National Park Service also lists the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail. At the end of the last Ice Age, 18,000 to 15,000 years ago, an ice dam in northern Idaho created Glacial Lake Missoula that stretched 3,000 square miles into Montana. The dam burst and released flood waters across Washington, down the Columbia River, back flooding into Oregon, before reaching the ocean. This happened perhaps 100 times and changed the lives and landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
Learn more about each of these parks, their history, and all current alerts and
conditions for each national site by visiting: www.nps.gov/state/mt/index.htm.
Wild Montana Launches 4th Season of the
“Trail of the Week” Radio Program and Podcast
One-minute radio spots highlighting Montana’s best trails will be broadcast on Montana radio stations and available for download via text message
Helena – Wild Montana is pleased to announce the 4th season of the Trail of the Week radio program and podcast. Trail of the Week highlights Montana’s best trails, encouraging Montanans and visitors alike to leave the beaten path behind and explore our wildlands and rural communities.
Trail of the Week’s 2021-22 season features 52 one-minute episodes. Over the next year, a new episode will be broadcast every week on nearly a dozen public and private radio stations across Montana.
“We’re thrilled to keep sharing Montana’s best trails with listeners across the state,” shared Kassia Randzio, Wild Montana’s development director. “Our aim is to highlight beautiful places that aren’t traditional recreation hotspots, spreading the benefits of Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy to communities off the beaten path and bringing Montanans closer to the wild places we all love.”
Interested listeners can subscribe to each new episode via text message at wildmontana.org/totw. For more information on the trails featured in Trail of the Week broadcasts, listeners can visit hikewildmontana.org, Montana’s only online hiking guide.
Trail of the Week is narrated by Michelle Nigh and produced by Rick Kuschel.
FWP to auction confiscated antlers, hides and horns
Antlers, horns, hides and skulls that were confiscated by Montana Fish,
Wildlife & Parks enforcement will be auctioned on September 25 at the National Auction House in Billings. Items include 50 big horn sheep skulls, 390-plus-inch bull elk, moose, deer, elk, bear, mountain goats, mountain lions, martins,
antelope, bobcats and more.
Most of the items come from poaching incidents. Montana statute requires FWP to sell seized items at public auction. This includes all birds, animals, fish, heads, hides, teeth or other parts of any animal other than a grizzly bear. When a carcass is confiscated, FWP donates the meat to a charitable organization and removes the antlers to be sold at auction. When enough inventory is collected, FWP schedules an auction. The last auction was held in 2017.
“It’s a time-consuming process and requires a lot of logistics, so we try to wait until we have enough items to warrant the auction,” said FWP Law Enforcement Chief, Dave Loewen.
Money collected from the auction goes to FWP’s general license account, which pays for conservation and restoration programs.
Doors open at 9 a.m. for inspection, and the live auction begins at 11 a.m.
The National Auction House is located at 3625 South 56th Street West in Billings