HELENA – Fifteen wolves from five different packs preying on livestock have been killed and authorization has been given to kill at least 18 more, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say.
The 15 wolves were killed between May 17 and May 21 in areas ranging from west of Missoula, north of Missoula, in the east fork of the Bitterroot, north of Wisdom, north of Helmville, and north of Wolf Creek.
Liz Bradley, a Missoula-based wolf management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the state is acting more aggressively with control actions this year because wolves have been in the region for the past decade and are established.
Federal agents in Montana have shot 44 wolves so far this year. Another 20 wolves have been killed by cars, property owners, or died from unknown causes.
“More wolves in more places equals more conflicts,” Bradley said. “We’ve seen that trend over the years. We’re still trying to use preventive methods to reduce conflicts, but there are places that hasn’t worked.”
Agents with the U.S. Wildlife Services typically shoot problem wolves, 145 of them last year.
John Steuber, the agency’s Montana director, said agents have sometimes been putting in 12-hour days this year.
“We have 20 people scattered throughout the state, and it’s becoming more and more work, which is stretching them thinner and thinner,” he said. “But these are probably the most committed government workers you’ll find. Our wolf work has been increasing for three, four, five years now so we’re getting kind of used to it, but it’s a little overwhelming right now.”
Ed Bangs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said high wolf mortality is typical in the spring because wolves are close to calving livestock, and big game hasn’t yet moved into the high country.
In previous years, before wolf management was turned over to the state, Bangs said the federal agency sometimes took out large packs for livestock depredation.
“We knew from early on that this would happen, which is why Wildlife Services has been a partner from early on,” Bangs said. “You can see from the wolf reports that we’ve been heading toward this for years — more depredations so there’s more control. When we started, we would move problem animals around, capturing them and putting them somewhere else, but there’s enough now that we just kill them.”
He said hunting could help reduce wolf populations.
“That’s one of the reasons that hunting can be so important,” he said. “You can have hunters pay to remove some wolves rather than use taxpayers money to go after them. It’s a good management tool to reduce conflicts and costs.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing a wolf hunting quota of up to 216 wolves. Officials estimate that would reduce the state’s wolf population to about 400, down from an estimated 500 currently.
Without hunting, state officials predict the wolf population would grow to 667.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.