Study: Montana Hunt Will Halve Gray Wolf Population

A new study says hunting season on wolves might cut the population by half. From this story in the Helena … Continued

A new study says hunting season on wolves might cut the population by half.

From this story in the Helena Independent Record:
_A scientific study released Wednesday said a proposed hunt for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies would cut the endangered species’ population in Montana by roughly half during a single season. The study from two Montana State University ecologists raised questions about claims that the wolves could easily withstand hunts proposed this fall in Montana and Idaho. The peer-reviewed report was published online by the Public Library of Science. Wolves in the Northern Rockies were returned to the endangered species list last month under a federal court order, but state officials still want permission to hold the public hunts.
__The MSU study found that Montana stands to lose approximately 50 percent of its wolves under a proposal submitted in mid-September to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The data suggest that a sustainable harvest can be developed. But the thresholds identified (in Montana) appear to be above a sustainable level,” said MSU ecologist Scott Creel, one of the study’s authors. Wildlife officials in Montana and Idaho said they were not swayed by the MSU study and characterized it as speculative. They added that even if wolf populations get into trouble, they could simply adjust future quota levels to compensate. State and federal wildlife managers have said repeatedly that about 30 percent of a wolf population can be killed and it still will bounce back the following year.

After analyzing 21 studies of North American wolf populations by government and academic researchers, Creel and colleague Jay Rotella estimated the figure for the Northern Rockies would be much lower, at 22 percent. The study reached the new estimate by using a computer model that compared Montana’s proposed hunting season to how wolf populations have responded to human-caused killings in the past. The lower estimate means wildlife managers using the old number could inadvertently set wolf quotas too high, threatening the species’ recovery after two decades and more than $30 million spent on restoration efforts.

Montana wants a hunting quota of 186 wolves, on top of 145 wolves that the state expects to be killed this year by wildlife agents responding to attacks on livestock. Idaho also is seeking a hunt, but its proposed quota has not been released so the potential impact was not measured in the study. Idaho and Montana had a combined minimum population of 1,367 wolves at the end of 2009. Montana wants to pare back its wolf population by 15 percent this year, while Idaho has a long-term objective of 41 percent fewer wolves._

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