Wolves are off the list again

State proposing hunt quota of 220

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule Wednesday that officially removes wolves in Montana and Idaho from the Endangered Species list.

The rule comes on the heels of Congressional action that compelled delisting.

“We are implementing the recent legislation that directs the delisting of the gray wolf in most of the northern Rocky Mountains,” Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes said in a prepared statement. “As with other delisted species, we will be applying the Endangered Species Act’s post-delisting monitoring requirements to ensure that wolf populations remain robust while under state wildlife management.”

Language that was attached to the 2011 appropriations bill by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., reinstated terms of a 2009 rule that delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho, as well as parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Wolves in Wyoming will remain listed but that state is developing a management plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow for delisting.

“The gray wolf’s biological recovery reflects years of work by scientists, wildlife managers and our state, tribal and stakeholder partners to bring wolf populations back to healthy numbers,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also was commenting on a proposal to delist wolves in the Great Lakes region.

The Northern Rockies delisting rule requires Idaho and Montana to manage wolves under approved management plans and to monitor populations for at least five years. Both state plans had regulated, quota-based wolf hunts in 2009.

On May 12, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission will get a hunting season proposal “that pretty much reflects what we proposed in spring of 2010,” said Ron Aasheim, chief of communications for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

That hunt, however, was derailed by an August court ruling that led to Tester’s legislation.

The proposed hunt for this year will raise the statewide quota to 220, up from last year’s proposed 186, Aasheim said.

The state had a total minimum estimate of 556 wolves at the end of 2010. The state’s goal is to lower the population to 425 wolves, he added.

The proposal divides the state into 14 districts that will have varying quotas, based on wolf numbers and other factors, such as the presence of livestock and wolf impacts on big game populations.

For example, a district covering part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness will have a quota of just three, while there will be a quota of 18 for a district in the West Fork of the Bitterroot where wolf impacts on elk have been significant.

Livestock owners, meanwhile can now “haze, harass or kill wolves that they see chasing, molesting or harassing livestock, herding or guarding animals or domestic dogs,” Aasheim said. The incident must be reported to the state within 24 hours.

Aasheim said the commission will take public comments on the proposal until June 20 and it is scheduled to set a final season on July 14. The wolf season would coincide with the general big game season that gets under way in late October.

The delisting drew praise from Montana’s congressional delegation.

Tester said the move secures a system that will work best for Montana livestock, wildlife and the jobs they sustain.

“Our wolves have recovered and now state biologists need to manage them like any other recovered species,” he said.

“Today’s news puts an end to our hard-fought battle to return wolves in Montana to Montana management,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “It’s about time the federal government puts Montanans back in control and end this debate for good. I’m proud to see Montana ranchers and hunters finally get the certainty the deserve once and for all.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., noted that the wolf has now been delisted three times over the last three years by two administrations.

“Each time, I have praised the supremacy of science and the value of letting Montana manage our own wildlife,” he said. “I am hopeful that this time, against all history and precedent, the wolf will stay under state control.”

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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