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Montana unveils first wolf management plan update in 20 years

This year’s wolf quota was reduced from 450 to 313 following slight population decreases since 2020

Nearly 250 wolves were killed in Montana during the 2021-22 hunting and trapping season. The updated proposal outlines Montana FWP's monitoring tools and management strategies but does not dictate future harvesting quotas. Here, a lone wolf in 2021 makes his way to the Canyon Pack near Canyon Junction in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Vo von Sehlen
Nearly 250 wolves were killed in Montana during the 2021-22 hunting and trapping season. The updated proposal outlines Montana FWP's monitoring tools and management strategies but does not dictate future harvesting quotas. Here, a lone wolf in 2021 makes his way to the Canyon Pack near Canyon Junction in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Vo von Sehlen
by Julia Barton

In Montana, gray wolves are about as controversial as they are stunning. The canids were effectively eliminated from the state by the 1930s due to hunting, and were only reintroduced following their 1973 listing under the Endangered Species Act. Reintroduction efforts in Greater Yellowstone beginning in 1995 were successful and wolves were delisted in 2011. As a result, rather than the federal government, individual states manage wolf populations within their boundaries.

Management is a daunting task, as conservationists, landowners and hunters all have differing viewpoints on when and how wolves should be protected by state law. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently released a draft of the first update to its wolf management plan since 2003 with an accompanying environmental impact statementThe new drafted document is called the Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, and follows various discussions from Montana’s 2021 Legislature along with a Jan. 12 directive issued by Gov. Greg Gianforte for FWP to reevaluate wolf management. 

“A lot has happened, both within the wolf population and how we monitor and manage wolves,” FWP’s Wolf Plan Coordinator Samantha Fino told Mountain Journal. “This plan is really just an in-depth evaluation of what has changed over the last 20 years.”
“[The management plan] does not set in stone what exactly we will use in the future because it really is dependent on the context both environmentally as well as sociopolitically.” – Samantha Fino, Wolf Plan Coordinator, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Nearly 250 wolves were killed in Montana during the 2021-22 hunting and trapping season, according to a June report. State wolf populations have dipped by about 90 individuals since delisting, and appear to be “stabilizing at about 1,160 wolves,” the report stated. Of those wolves killed in Montana, 19 were part of Yellowstone packs that ventured outside park boundaries.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission issued regulatory changes for the 2021-22 season, including eliminating quotas in specific areas, increasing wolf hunting and trapping licenses, extending the wolf trapping season, and allowing new harvesting tools such as snaring, baiting and night hunting on private property. This year’s quota was reduced from 450 to 313 following slight population decreases reported by FWP since 2020.
The 2021 Canyon Pack near Canyon Junction in Yellowstone. Photo by Vo von Sehlen
The 2021 Canyon Pack near Canyon Junction in Yellowstone. Photo by Vo von Sehlen
Fino said the updated proposal outlines the organization’s monitoring tools and management strategies but does not dictate future harvesting quotas—those are determined annually by the commission—nor what culling recommendations may be made in the future.

“It by no means is prescriptive or regulatory,” Fino said. “[The management plan] does not set in stone what exactly we will use in the future because it really is dependent on the context both environmentally as well as sociopolitically.”

Wolves can have a variety of positive and negative impacts on Montana landscapes, according to Fino, which is part of the reason their management is so polarizing. Despite varying opinions, wolf populations remain well above the baseline minimum of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service upon the 2011 delisting.

FWP is set to host regional question-and-answer sessions through mid-December and is accepting public comment on the management plan and EIS until Dec. 19. Fino noted that comments made during the upcoming in-person and virtual meetings will be off the record, and folks should submit comments via mail, the FWP website or email for proper evaluation.

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Julia Barton
About Julia Barton

Julia Barton is a freelance journalist and communications specialist based out of Bozeman. A Montana native, she earned a journalism degree from the University of Southern California and reports on the environment, outdoor recreation and the arts.
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