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FWP hosting public meetings to answer questions about updated wolf management plan

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FWP hosting public meetings to answer questions about updated wolf management plan

Nov 27, 2023 | 4:15 pm ET
By Blair Miller
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FWP hosting public meetings to answer questions about updated wolf management plan
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A gray wolf. (Photo by Tracy Brooks | courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service).

Montanans will have the ability to get questions answered by Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials starting next week on the agency’s first proposed update to its wolf management plan in 20 years.

FWP is holding six public meetings, including five in person across the state and one virtual meeting, on the 2023 Montana Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and an accompanying environmental impact statement though the first half of December.

The department released the draft plan in October, the first update to the plans on how the state manages wolves since 2003, and has a portal for public comments open until 5 p.m. on Dec. 19.

The meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • Dec. 4, Great Falls – Region 4 and 6 Meeting, 6-8 p.m., FWP Office, 4600 Giant Springs Road
  • Dec. 5, Bozeman – Region 3 Meeting, 6-8 p.m., FWP Office, 1400 S. 19th Ave.
  • Dec. 6, Billings – Regions 5 and 7 Meeting, 6-8 p.m., FWP Office, 2300 Lake Elmo Drive
  • Dec. 7, Kalispell – Region 1 Meeting, 6-8 p.m., FWP Office, 490 N. Meridian Road
  • Dec. 12, Virtual – Virtual Statewide Meeting, 6-8 p.m., Zoom (ID 889 2772 9036; Passcode: 183143)
  • Dec. 13, Missoula – Region 2 Meeting, 6-8 p.m., FWP Office, 3201 Spurgin Road

The new plans stem from a push for new regulations by the Gianforte administration and laws the governor signed in 2021, including a directive for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to establish hunting and trapping seasons for wolves.

The draft plans seek to keep at least 450 wolves in Montana to ensure there are 15 breeding pairs. Currently, there are an estimated 1,100-1,260 wolves in Montana.

“Because the wolf population is considerably greater than the federal recovery threshold, there remains a great deal of flexibility to both reduce the wolf population and still maintain a sustainable population,” the draft plan says.

The draft plan says if hunters and trappers kill from 450 to 700 wolves over a five-year period, the population would approach that 450-wolf threshold and would likely lead to a reduction in hunting and trapping for 1-3 years.

For this season, the state reduced the quota of wolves that could be harvested to 313, down from 450, citing a slight decline in the state’s wolf population over the past two years.

As of Monday, there have been 73 wolves killed so far in 2023. Last week, a federal judge ordered that the wolf trapping and snaring season will be restricted to Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 in Regions 1-5 and in Hill, Blaine, and Phillips counties.

The original floating season, which could have started anytime between Monday and Dec. 31, was challenged by conservation groups who argued the longer season would mean more chances for threatened grizzly bears to be captured in the traps and snares, which would be a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

FWP opened trapping and snaring season on Monday in Regions 6 and 7, which will run through March 15 because they are not subject to the judge’s order.

The agency appealed the decision and said in a statement it will continue to track grizzly denning trends to see when it might start the floating season if the decision is overturned on appeal.