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Montana to curb wolf hunt after 23 from Yellowstone park killed

 

By Matthew Brown

The Associated Press

BILLINGS, MONT. » Montana wildlife commissioners on Friday moved to shut down gray wolf hunting in a portion of the state around Yellowstone National Park, amid mounting criticism over a record number of the animals shot or trapped after roaming across the park boundary this winter.

But commissioners rejected calls to revive quotas that would limit the number of wolves killed along Yellowstone’s northern border to just a few annually. Those longstanding quotas were lifted last year after Republican lawmakers passed laws intended to drive down the wolf population by making it easier to kill the animals.

Yellowstone officials had urged the state beginning in mid-December to suspend hunting in some areas along the park’s border. They warned of long-term harm to Yellowstone’s renowned wolf packs if it continued.

Under Friday’s unanimous commission vote, hunting and trapping for wolves in southwestern Montana will be barred once the number killed in the region hits 82 animals. So far 78 have been reported killed in that area.

Twenty-three wolves from park packs have been killed this winter — 18 in Montana, three in Wyoming and two in Idaho, according to Yellowstone officials. That’s the most in a season since the predators were restored to the U.S. northern Rocky Mountains more than 25 years ago after being widely decimated last century.

Urged by ranchers and hunters who want fewer wolves, Republican lawmakers in Montana and Idaho last year loosened hunting and trapping laws to allow night hunting, higher harvest limits, the use of snares and even aerial hunting in Idaho. Montana also eliminated the longstanding quotas.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, told Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly in a recent letter that once a wolf exits the park and enters Montana it may be killed under state rules. Gianforte trapped and killed a radiocollared wolf from Yellowstone last year on private land near the park.

The number of wolves killed statewide so far this season, 184, has been in line with recent years, Montana officials said. There are more than 1,000 wolves in the state.

“We have a statutory obligation to reduce the wolf population,” said Pat Tabor, vice chairman of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, prior to Friday’s vote.

But the killings just outside Yellowstone have infuriated wildlife advocates and brought condemnation from some businesses that depend on park tourism.

One pack — the Phantom Lake Pack — is now considered “eliminated” after most or all of its members were killed over a twomonth span beginning in October, according to the park.

Nature guide Cara Mc-Gary, who leads tourists on wildlife watching trips into the park, said the hunting along the park’s border was targeting wolves where their greatest economic value was in being alive so tourists can see them.

“These are the most viewable wolves in the lower 48, if not the world,” Mc-Gary said. “The same packs that my clients pay me to see on every wildlife watching tour all year round ... What’s the justification for this damage?”

The wolf season for the rest of the Montana runs through March 15. State regulations allow the fish and wildlife commission to review hunting seasons for different regions when individual harvest thresholds are met, or statewide when the total number killed reaches 450 wolves.

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