March 2, 2012
Joe Maurier, Director
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
Helena, MT 59620-0701
Now that the latest wolf numbers have been released, RMEF is asking the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to let us help. While we are aware that FWP felt it best to take a less aggressive approach to managing and harvesting wolves in 2011 it is clear that the time for more aggressive measures is called for to avoid yet another increase in the wolf population and continued elk population declines in specific areas.
For some time we have cautioned that executing merely a sport hunting season is not going to be the sole solution to the over population of gray wolves in Montana. There is a great deal of empirical data to support this from Canada and Alaska where gray wolf populations have thrived for much longer and have been dealt with by the governing game authorities more aggressively; practices that continue today.
The Montana Wolf Management Plan was accepted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) after much work and effort. The plan has been defended in federal court and upheld on multiple occasions. That document is the roadmap for managing wolves under delisted status. This is a plan that needs to be implemented to a greater degree.
The Montana Wolf Management Plan provides your agency with great latitude in adopting management tools. No one is asking your department to step outside the bounds of the Montana Wolf Management Plan, merely follow that plan and respect the work that went into that plan. A plan adopted by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks Commission in 2004.
We sincerely ask FWP to implement the more aggressive and very appropriate wolf management tools allowed under the Montana Wolf Management Plan. To back our request, we are willing to put our money where our mouth is and offer financial granting support to FWP.
We believe FWP has been reluctant to increase expenditures with Wildlife Services (WS), the federal body who is contracted by FWP to remove problem wolves. Regardless of the reasons for this reluctance, RMEF is offering to raise money for a grant of no less than $50,000 for 2012 to FWP for exclusive use to increase the contracting services of Wildlife Services. Such a grant will enhance the state’s funding for WS’s expertise and increase the ability to take more wolves to reduce their overall numbers.
Beyond more activity by WS and sport hunting we are calling upon FWP to consider more liberal methods of hunting wolves. We strongly encourage you to include trapping, multiple tags for individuals, the lowering of non-resident wolf tag fees and all other reasonable management tools provided for in the Montana Wolf Management Plan toward reducing wolf numbers.
While the number of wolves reported at the end of 2011 (653), is a minimum estimate, let’s assume that this estimate is accurate and we are now done harvesting wolves until next fall. A 20% survival rate of pups from this spring (which is very conservative) would put the wolf numbers in Montana next fall at nearly 800. A number far above what the Montana Wolf Management Plan calls for, and what the prey base can withstand in specific areas.
We must adapt our wolf management to be much more ambitious and utilize the many remaining options to manage wolves within the guidelines of the Montana Wolf Management Plan. Maintaining the “let’s go slow” attitude with wolf management is rapidly growing out of control. As difficult as it is to get some 600 wolves substantially reduced, one can only fathom how much harder it becomes when wolf numbers approach
800 and higher. Sport hunting will only take so many wolves each year and it is likely that this number will get harder and harder to attain as we go forward.
We completely understand FWP’s concern for the reaction and resistance from those who support more wolves. However, it is reality that these groups will never support any reduction in wolf numbers. Frankly, it is catering to this vocal minority that has gotten the wolf issue to this point of being out of control.
There is a significant concern by many that high wolf populations are already leading to reduced hunting fee revenue for FWP with the strong likelihood of more reductions to come. One only needs to observe what has happened to Idaho to see what is likely to come to Montana very soon.
We have learned that other states allocate substantially more resources to WS in an effort to aggressively control predator numbers. We are told that WS is not adequately funded for wolf control in Montana. Additionally and as of today, we understand budget constraints prevent WS from being contracted to harvest more coyotes in eastern Montana to give our ailing deer and antelope herds more support. This, after a severe winter last year and a virus that impacted substantial deer and antelope numbers is also concerning to us. It is likely that a significant amount of FWP’s resources for WS were spent on wolf control and now the state has no funds for other predator control. We will be calling on the MT Legislature to consider more funding for a larger predator control effort in Montana in the future.
Combine wolves with additional predator issues caused by bears and mountain lions, habitat issues, the always unknown weather factor that affects hunting harvests, a national economy that is shaky at best, suggests there is ample reason to be very concerned about the future of Montana’s wildlife picture. The role of the hunter, both resident and nonresident is absolutely critical to not only our wildlife system but to the ability of agencies like FWP to function. Yet, it appears that the concerns of the anti-hunter and environmentalists are considered to a much greater proportion these days.
RMEF is willing to stand with FWP as a partner to address and affect these issues. We do not desire to merely sit on the sidelines and cast criticism at every turn and armchair quarterback. We do not pretend to agree with every position of FWP and we don’t feel you should agree with us at every turn. For the sake of wildlife, Montana hunters, and our future we feel it is time to get serious and make a difference.
I look forward to discussing this with you in greater detail soon. Thank you for your consideration.
M. David Allen
President & CEO