Montana Group Seeks Higher Lion and Wolf Quotas to Save Elk

From this story on The Missoulian:
In 2005, state biologists counted 1,917 elk in the West Fork of the Bitterroot. This year, they found 754 - almost the same as what they tallied the year before. The bad news didn't stop there. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Craig Jourdonnais counted only four bulls for every 100 cows during the annual aerial spring survey. Last year, he found seven. Armed with those numbers, the Bitterroot Elk Working Group is asking the state to increase the quotas on wolves and mountain lions for this upcoming hunting season to take some pressure off the elk herd. _And if that increased harvest of predators doesn't ease the decline, the advisory group will recommend a permit-only season for bull elk in the West Fork for the 2011 hunting season. "It's a huge step," said Tom Powers, an advisory group member. "It just makes every one of us sick." The group's recommendations were sent the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director and commission earlier this month in a two-page letter. In the next few weeks, the recommendations will be formalized in a proposed amendment to the state's elk plan now being developed by FWP officials. The commission is expected to act on the elk plan amendment at its July 8 meeting in Helena. The advisory group met earlier this month to address what it's deemed an emergency situation in Hunting District 250 - the West Fork of the Bitterroot. "Our elk herd has declined by 62 percent since 2005," the group's letter read. "We are forced to make some drastic changes for the 2011 hunting season if the predator situation does not change."

The group recommends: Creating a subunit for the upcoming wolf hunt in HD 250 with a minimum quota of 15 wolves. If U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy opts to relist wolves as a federally protected endangered species, the state will petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove 15 wolves from the area. Increasing the lion permit quota in HD 250 to 23 males and two females from the current quota of 13 males and two females. The hope is that 75 to 80 percent of the quota would be filled. If elk numbers don't improve following a reduction in predator numbers, the state will move to a limited permit system in the West Fork. The group recommends a total of 25 permits. The state already has decided to eliminate all potential for cow elk harvest this fall, including youth and handicap hunting opportunities._

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