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Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, argued Tuesday for a spring wolf hunt, saying his bill to establish the season would allow Montana to get a handle on its wolf population and make it harder for environmental groups to stop wolf hunts with lawsuits.

But a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks official said the bill could give Montana hunters a bad name by raising the prospect that wolf pups could be orphaned or killed.

Balyeat told the Senate Fish and Game Committee that his bill, Senate Bill 402, is contingent on Congress passing legislation to strip gray wolves in the state of Endangered Species Act protection, a provision that has been put forward in both the Senate and the House this year.

Balyeat's bill would also provide for a spring hunt only if a wolf hunt was not held the previous fall - a provision that would come into play this year.

"We're faced with a situation where we have a rapidly expanding wolf population, and we were denied a wolf hunt last year," he said.

Balyeat said the bill would also deter groups who want block wolf hunts with lawsuits, since stopping a fall hunt would automatically prompt a spring hunt.

Dave Risley, FWP's fish and wildlife administrator, opposed the bill, saying that FWP shies away from spring hunts because that is when big game animals are pregnant or nursing young.

"We're concerned about the backlash against hunters," he said.

Even if wolves are delisted and the bill is passed, Risley said it is unlikely a hunt would occur this year. The federal government would have to publish a rule and accept comments, processes that would put actual de-listing past spring.

"That's going to take us to about the middle of June," he said.

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.

 

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