I wonder if I even need to ask that question. Last week Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials opted to close the wolf hunt in Wildlife Management Unit 3, which abuts the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, stating that although the quota they had made for that unit was 12 wolves, 9 had been taken earlier than they thought.

According to the Los Angeles Times the reason for stopping the hunt then was:

But with nine animals having been killed surprisingly quickly in the backcountry zone, the agency decided to suspend the hunt until the general season begins, to ensure some hunting occurs elsewhere in WMU 3 before the quota of 12 is met.

To make sure readers understand, Montana, in a very similar fashion to Idaho, created wolf hunting areas and set quotas to limit the number of wolves that can be killed within an area. Such was the case for the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area near the northern boundary of Yellowstone. The quota was set for a total of 12 wolves. Once 12 wolves were taken, the hunt would be closed.

The wolf hunt in that area opened September 15th, as officials decided it should coincide with the elk and deer hunts in the same area. Nine wolves were taken in what officials say was a surprisingly shorter period of time than they had anticipated. They then decided to stop the hunt and then reopen it at the later date, October 25, when the general wolf hunt begins.

As per the reasons given above, this decision was based on the idea that officials hoped hunters would be taking wolves in other parts of WMU 3. Now, officials are considering canceling the wolf hunt in that zone completely even though the quota hasn’t been met yet.

One has to wonder if the real reason for stopping the hunt isn’t driven by politics. Officials had to have known that opening up a wolf hunt in that region to coincide with elk and deer hunting seasons would increase the odds on wolves getting shot. They also had to consider that wolves will be where the deer and elk are. Assuming that Montana’s game officials thought this all through, isn’t that why they came up with a wolf quota of 12 instead of nine?

Environmentalists are trying to argue that killing the wolves will stop the wolves in Yellowstone from spreading out to other parts of the state. This argument is the same one that is part of their lawsuit to relist wolves. Caroline Sime, Montana’s lead wolf biologist, refutes that claim.

Sime said that with wolves firmly established in many areas of Montana, Yellowstone’s importance as a source of wolves had diminished.

There were 89 packs in Montana at the end of 2008, including 18 in the part of the state that borders Yellowstone.

“From a biological perspective, it’s a non-issue,” Sime said, noting the death of nine wolves was unlikely to hurt the overall population.

So, biologically speaking there is no real reason to suspend the hunt for this season not allowing the quota to be filled.

Is Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks under pressure from environmentalists and this is an attempt to appease them? It may be so, either directly or indirectly. Remember, the environmentalists lost their lawsuit for an emergency injunction to stop the wolf hunts but they still are suing to put the wolf back on the Endangered Species Act list. Is MFWP concerned that this event will influence Judge Donald Molloy when he renders his decision? Just maybe.

Nobody expected the wolf hunts to go off without a hitch or that lessons would not be learned and from this adjustments would be forthcoming for subsequent hunts. Officials in both Idaho and Montana expressed that they would err on the side of caution when setting quotas and not allowing them to be too high. My concern is that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks make their decisions based on science and not the politics of this case.

Whether this WMU only harvests 9 wolves instead of 12 is immaterial to me. If MFWP believes that from a scientific perspective they better stop the hunt, then so be it. It would be a travesty to wildlife management to discover the decision was driven by politics.

Tom Remington