Real snow has finally dropped on western Montana, sending most bears to their dens. Some grizzly insomniacs are still up, but wolf trappers can now trap in all areas, including those next to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks this week opened several wolf districts to trapping after delaying their opening because warm weather kept grizzly bears wandering around later than usual.
Some districts opened to wolf trapping on time on Nov. 29, but FWP kept some areas closed in known grizzly habitat to avoid snaring and trapping entanglements with bears. Even as recently as last week, grizzlies were still reported as being active locally around Drummond and in the Blackfoot-Clearwater region.
Grizzly bears are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, so they aren’t supposed to be disturbed, handled or killed without U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorization. If a bear were accidentally trapped, people could have sued the trapper and state of Montana for violating the Endangered Species Act. So FWP avoided that possibility by keeping areas closed.
But now, biologists have decided conditions are safe enough to allow trapping. The latest they could open the season is Dec. 31.
Wolf advocates and some grizzly advocates have been dreading the day. Trappers tend to be a lot more effective at killing because they don’t have to see or chase wolves. And as of this year, multitudes of snares will add to the carnage. Especially now that districts 313 and 316 next to Yellowstone National Park and districts 110 and 130 next to Glacier National Park are open to a lot more trapping.
Districts 313 and 316 used to be special units just north of Yellowstone Park that allowed the killing of only two wolves in each. They were set up that way because the park’s research wolves are known to venture over the park border into Montana where certain trappers and hunters like to target collared wolves.
In March, Robert E. Smith, director of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group helped Gov. Greg Gianforte illegally trap and kill a collared Yellowstone wolf on Smith’s private ranch about 10 miles north of the park. Gianforte hadn’t attended FWP’s trapping certification course.
Now, due to state Rep. Paul Fielder’s bill and subsequent FWP commission decisions, the districts outside the parks have no special limits, and trappers and hunters can kill 10 wolves each. Already, wolf hunters have reported killing 12 wolves in tiny district 313 and another three wolves just to the east in district 316. No wolves have been killed yet in district 110 west of Glacier Park.
“Yellowstone wolves are being slaughtered, and no one is saying a thing about those that are gone. The Junction Butte pack, the most watched in the park, has lost at least seven members,” said Yellowstone photographer Deby Dixon on social media.
Three of the Junction Butte pack – two pups and a yearling – were shot during the first week of the hunting season, which started in mid-September. As of mid-December, 13 park wolves belonging to five packs are dead, including two killed in Idaho and two in Wyoming.
In September, Yellowstone Park superintendent Cam Sholly said he wanted to reinstate the quotas, but nothing more has been mentioned.
In 2020, FWP reported a statewide total of 328 wolves killed. As of Tuesday, 127 wolves were reported killed so far in a season that runs until March 15. In Region 1 in northwest Montana, where Fielder claims wolves have destroyed elk herds, 37 wolves have died so far. Fielder’s claim isn’t backed up by science. Region 1 Wildlife Manager Neil Anderson said elk recruitment has historically been low in northwestern Montana, and FWP biologists have conducted only sporadic elk counts. Meanwhile, a lot more people have moved into the area.
In Region 3 surrounding Yellowstone Park, 59 wolves are dead. The FWP commission must review the situation once that number hits 82.
Idaho has an even more lenient wolf season where reportedly, more than 450 wolves have been killed since Jan. 1.
The recent laws allowing more ways to kill wolves and the climbing death count have prompted wolf advocates to continue to push the Biden administration to relist the grey wolf.
Last week, a bipartisan group of 78 Congressmen, led by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging an emergency relisting of the gray wolf while the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducts the gray wolf status review.
“While we appreciate the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to conduct a 12-month status review to revisit the listing of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies, we are extremely concerned that wolves around the country will continue to be needlessly killed in the interim, further jeopardizing the species. We have already seen evidence of mass killings in several states after the gray wolf was delisted, and more, larger hunts are planned as of now,” the letter said.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at email@example.com.