Montanans Debate Annual Wolf Report

posted on August 4, 2023
Wolf Pack

Montana's annual wolf report set the stage for a heated debate at the state's Environmental Quality Council, which provides oversight for several agencies, including the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP). The report showed that 248 wolves were harvested by hunters and trappers in 2022, well below the quota of 450 animals. Thirty five more animals were killed by the USDA's Wildlife Services division for attacking livestock, with 10 more being killed by landowners for the same reason. This is also well below the 68-animal yearly average of depredation kills, calculated since 2002.

Debate and Criticism

Further, the report asserts that 1,087 wolves in 181 packs inhabit the western potion of the state. This would indicate a roughly 100-wolf decline over the last several years, along with ~18 packs. The numbers may not be the end of the story, however. FWP utilizes the Integrated Patch Occupancy Model, which relies on hunter surveys, wolf locations, and estimates of pack size and territory. Critics of the model, however, say the method is useful only for estimating distribution, rather than numbers. These critics include former state and federal wolf biologists, lending the critique some real significance.

Despite such criticisms, however, the debate rages, with wolf-advocate groups claiming that FWP is not listening to their concerns, and is instead promoting the "commercialization" of wildlife. On the other side, hunters are concerned that the report, based on numbers that face some legitimate criticisms, may lead to a drop in quota going forward. A new draft wolf management plan should be released by the end of August, but FWP is already signaling that the quota should be lowered to the average harvest level of the last five years—289 wolves.

Fore more updates and in-depth reporting on these developments, check out Brett French's story over at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.


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