UPDATE: Montana Seeks Wolf Kills Despite Federal Protection

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Documents released Monday show that Montana is seeking federal approval to kill 186 endangered gray wolves in a special “conservation hunt” and neighboring Idaho wants permission to remove up to 50 of the predators that officials say are eating too many elk.

The states’ proposals to kill the wolves come despite a court ruling that restored the animals’ endangered species status.

In separate applications filed over the last two weeks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho and Montana said their new plans to kill wolves were permissible under the Endangered Species Act.

Wildlife managers contend the Aug. 5 ruling from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy did not account for the growing impact of wolves on livestock and big game herds across the Northern Rockies.

Hunters in Idaho and Montana killed about 260 wolves last year during the states’ inaugural wolf hunt seasons. An estimated 1,700 of the animals still roam the Northern Rockies — almost six times the region’s original recovery goal of 300 wolves.

“We’ve done an excellent job. We want to manage them as we do any other of our wildlife,” said Bonnie Butler, natural resources adviser to Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter.

She said the 40 to 50 wolves that would be removed from the Lolo area of central Idaho have decimated area elk populations. The wolves would be killed by government wildlife agents.

Idaho also wants public hunting of wolves, but has not applied for a permit. Rather, the state is seeking a hunt through negotiations on an agreement to allow Idaho to manage wolves on behalf of the federal government.

No quota figures for Idaho’s hunt proposal were available, Butler said.

The proposals have drawn criticism from wildlife advocates who accuse the states of making an end-run around the courts.

A federal lawsuit that could derail Idaho’s plans already is pending. And environmental groups have promised to challenge Montana’s conservation hunt if it gets the nod from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

A spokesman for the federal agency did not immediately return calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Montana has asked the agency for a response by early November so it can hold its hunt this fall. Agency officials said they’ve gotten a tepid reaction so far in conversations with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We’re not giving up, but we’re not overly optimistic,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim.

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