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Editorial: NRDC’s thoughts on Montana’s proposed 2010 wolf hunt

[large thumbnail url=”editorial-nrdcs-thoughts-on-montanas-proposed-2010-wolf-hunt” filename=”editorial” year=”2010″ month=”06″ day=”24″] [thumbnail icon url=”editorial-nrdcs-thoughts-on-montanas-proposed-2010-wolf-hunt” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”06″ day=”24″] Matt Skoglund wrote a new entry in his Switchboard blog regarding the thoughts of NRDC on Montana’s second hunt.

Our Thoughts on Montana’s Proposed 2010 Wolf Hunt
by Matt Skoglund

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is currently planning Montana’s second public wolf hunt, and FWP is looking to reduce Montana’s wolf population this year.

While last year’s wolf hunt quota was 75, this year FWP has proposed quotas that would allow 153, 186 or 216 wolves to be killed during the hunting season.

Besides the big spikes in this year’s proposed quotas, last year’s wolf hunt had a few hiccups, so it will be interesting to see what type of hunt Montana designs for this fall.

(Of course, with a decision on whether to return Endangered Species Act protections to wolves in Idaho and Montana pending in federal court, these hunt alternatives could become moot later this summer.)

At this time, NRDC opposes any wolf hunt in Montana (or any other state in the Northern Rockies). Before a sustainable wolf hunt can be implemented, wolves must be fully recovered in the Northern Rockies, with significant genetic connectivity between the subpopulations and adequate state management plans in place.

We’re not there yet.

Scientists call for a minimum of 2,000 wolves in the tri-state area of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Of critical importance to the long-term health and viability of Northern Rockies wolves is a larger wolf population with legitimate genetic exchange between the subpopulations of central Idaho, northwest Montana, and greater Yellowstone. Currently, there are roughly 1,700 wolves in the Northern Rockies. Full recovery is essential for wolves to successfully disperse between subpopulations and fulfill their ecological role.

Once recovery has been achieved and its long-term viability ensured, a hunt that sustains the population at recovery levels could reasonably be implemented, and NRDC would not oppose such a hunt.

This spring, however, FWP instituted new lethal control guidelines, allowing USDA-Wildlife Services to kill wolves at suspected wolf depredation sites without getting permission from FWP. A hunt on top of increased lethal control, especially a hunt that more than doubles or nearly triples last year’s quota, is irresponsible. When implementing changes, FWP should be more conservative and evaluate results before instituting additive changes.

FWP must adequately consider the ecological value of wolves on the landscape. Studies have shown that wolves influence ungulate herds, which allows trees and vegetation to grow, which, in turn, improves habitat for many other species. Wolves have reduced the coyote population in Yellowstone National Park, which has increased the number of pronghorn. The incredible ecological benefits that a viable wolf population brings by restoring natural ecosystem function must be better appreciated and considered.

In FWP’s hunt proposal’s “Supporting Information,” FWP states that connectivity between subpopulations in the Northern Rockies may be affected by the hunt quotas, and that quotas may need to be adjusted. FWP should not propose any actions that risk connectivity. Natural dispersal between subpopulations is critical to the long-term health of the species and successful restoration of wolves in neighboring states.

Proposed hunting areas and quotas were set by FWP to have more wolves killed in certain locations to protect livestock and elk/deer herds. Wolves should not be killed to protect elk or deer herds when the state ungulate populations remain largely over objectives. And attempting to protect livestock through a general wolf hunt is misguided.

FWP is attempting to reduce Montana’s wolf population with hunting, which indiscriminately removes wolves from packs, rather than targeting problem animals. Wolves have evolved under complex family-based social structures, and maintaining pack structure is important for several reasons. Among others, pack disintegration has been tied to a potential for increased livestock conflicts. Management policies should look beyond numbers to biological and ecological considerations.

If a wolf hunt goes forward, NRDC encourages FWP to implement the hunt with the following three much-needed changes from the 2009 hunt:

1 – FWP should establish a buffer zone around Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks: No hunting should be allowed within 10 miles of Park borders to protect core populations and wolf research projects. Last year, several wolves were killed on the edge of the National Parks, including multiple members of Yellowstone’s Cottonwood pack. This cannot be allowed to happen again.

2 – FWP should eliminate all hunting in the Centennial Mountains, the primary corridor for wolves traveling between the central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem subpopulations.

3 – FWP should eliminate all hunting in backcountry areas, where wolves rarely have conflicts with livestock.

Finally, there are two rules in the wolf hunt proposal that NRDC supports: (1) any illegal killings (poaching) will be subtracted from the hunting quota; and (2) any “over-run” of the quota in an individual sub-unit will be subtracted from the quota in the larger hunting district.

A wolf hunt in Montana is premature at this time. But should a wolf hunt take place anyways, we strongly urge FWP to incorporate our suggestions into its design of the hunt.

The original blog appeared on the NRDC Switchboard Web site

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