HELENA, Montana — Montana wildlife officials want to keep the existing rules in place for the upcoming wolf hunting and trapping season, saying Thursday they think they've hit on the right formula in how they manage the predators.
John Vore, the game management bureau chief for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told Fish and Wildlife commissioners the agency has struck a balance between keeping a thriving wolf population and making sure their numbers don't get too high.
In past years, as the wolf population rose and landowners howled about livestock losses, Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency officials have tried various quotas, season dates, bag limits and other regulations to reduce the predators' numbers.
The agency has eliminated quotas across the state except in areas adjacent to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. It also extended the length of the season and set the bag limit at 5 wolves.
Hunters and trappers killed 206 wolves over the season that ended in March, and landowners killed six more. The state's wolf population fell an estimated 12 percent to at least 554 predators, and landowner complaints and livestock losses also dropped.
So wildlife officials are seeking to keep the status quo this year. That includes keeping the same hunting and trapping regulations and also a statewide limit of 100 wolves that landowners can kill because of potential threats to people, livestock or pets.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission must approve the 2015-2016 wolf regulations. The commission will take public comment on the proposal before making a final decision in July.
A wolf advocacy group said it is good the state is not proposing to erode protections further, but believes the current rules are too aggressive to properly manage the animals.
"We would like to see them treated just like other wildlife, not treated to special persecution," said Jonathan Proctor, the director of Defenders of Wildlife's Rockies and Plains program. "Wolves are an important part of the environment and should be managed as such. Other predators are managed at far greater numbers."
Defenders of Wildlife and other wolf advocates at Thursday's hearing said they would like to see hunting eliminated or reduced in areas adjacent to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, quotas reinstituted in other parts of the state and a reduction in the five-wolf bag limit.
Representatives of a hunting organization told commissioners they want to see more aggressive wolf hunting and trapping regulations, particularly in the mountains along the Montana-Idaho border, to help elk populations rebound.
Paul Rossignol of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife said the state should incorporate more of Idaho's tactics, such as aerial shooting of wolves and a longer trapping season.
Wolf hunting has been allowed in Idaho and Montana since those states took over management of the animals from the federal government in 2009, although the 2010 season was canceled because of a court order. Federal protections for wolves are still in place in Wyoming as part of ongoing legal challenges from environmental groups.