Wolves Idaho Montana

A wolf is pictured in Yellowstone National Park on Nov. 7, 2017.

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Dates outlining Montana’s wolf trapping season were adjusted this week, as were areas where snaring can occur on public land, as part of efforts by state officials to protect federally listed grizzly bears and Canada lynx.

At Thursday’s Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to push the default opening date for Montana’s wolf trapping season on grizzly bear-occupied habitat only.

Back in August, commissioners set a blanket date for the opening of wolf trapping season at Nov. 29. That opening date still stands for much of the state, but for areas defined as grizzly-occupied, wolf trapping season now opens on Dec. 31.

If officials determine that most bears are denned for the winter, they may open the state’s wolf trapping season earlier in some grizzly-occupied wolf management units.

Factors like weather conditions, available food sources, grizzly bear observations and bear collar data could lead to an earlier opening date, though wolf trapping can start no sooner than Nov. 29, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Chief of Staff Quentin Kujala.

Areas affected by the date change are outlined in a map from FWP. Wolf management units 316, 313, 390, 310 and 320 in southwest Montana are among them. Four units with altered dates — WMUs 313, 316, 390 and 310 — directly border Yellowstone National Park.

On Thursday, commissioners also voted unanimously to prohibit snaring on public land only in lynx protection zones, which lie in parts of northwest and southwest Montana.

According to a map from FWP, the change impacts areas south and west of Glacier National Park and areas north and east of Yellowstone National Park. Portions of Carbon, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Park and Gallatin counties are affected.

This spring, the Montana Legislature passed a series of bills aimed at reducing the state’s gray wolf population. People can now legally hunt for wolves at night, bait wolves and bag up to 10 per person.

While wolf trapping season hasn’t opened yet, wolf hunting season has been open in Montana for over a month. So far, 38 wolves have been killed statewide, with 13 harvests in the four units that border Yellowstone, according to FWP.

Kujala said on Thursday that to date this year, the number of wolves taken by hunters has been consistent with harvest numbers in past years.

Thursday’s adjustments to wolf trapping and snaring regulations were proposed because wolf regulations adopted at the commission’s August meeting were inconsistent with legal settlement language, according to Kujala.

Officials want to avoid non-target capture of lynx and grizzly bears in snares and traps. Both species are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Tom Fieber, president of the Montana Fur Harvesters and a member of the Montana Trappers Association, said at Thursday’s meeting that the two organizations support the commission’s decision. He emphasized that the education that goes along with trapping is important.

The two organizations have been working to educate the public ahead of the trapping season, and so far they’ve hosted over a dozen classes to train people on how to use snares safely and responsibly and how to avoid capturing non-target species, Fieber said.

Paul Fielder, a state legislator from Thompson Falls who sponsored bills this spring that permitted snaring of wolves and extended the beginning and ending of Montana’s wolf trapping season, also spoke at Thursday’s meeting.

Fielder said he brought forth the two bills to give wildlife managers more options for reducing wolf populations as a method of reducing impacts on big game animals and improving ungulate hunting opportunities.

“I understand you’re in a position where you’re being forced to consider options outside of the laws that were passed in Montana, and you’re being forced to consider those options through intimidation and blackmail,” he said.

Fielder said commissioners are following through with the regulation changes to avoid a lawsuit. He encouraged commissioners to “think outside of the box” and look for other ways to reduce wolf populations in Montana.

Andrea Zaccardi of the Center for Biological Diversity said that because of aggressive laws passed in Montana and Idaho this year to kill wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether it should relist gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

“We once again advise that you use caution in what you decide today,” she said. Zaccardi urged commissioners to issue season opening and closing dates of Dec. 31 and Feb. 28 to account for grizzly bears going into and leaving dens early as a result of climate change.

Zaccardi also urged the commission to exclude snaring in areas where grizzly bears may be present, define those areas broadly and prohibit snaring on public and private land in lynx protection zones.

Attorney for EarthJustice Ben Scrimshaw said the commission’s date adjustment proposal is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough.

He requested that commissioners end Montana’s wolf trapping season by Feb. 28 on grizzly bear habitat, set a hard start date for the season at Dec. 31 and set that later date on additional wolf management units where grizzlies have been known to occur.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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