Exchange Wolf Management

The Junction Butte wolf pack is photographed from the air in Yellowstone National Park.

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Bills that would permit the snaring of wolves and extend Montana’s wolf trapping season are advancing toward the governor’s desk.

On Thursday, the Senate Fish and Game Committee held a hearing on House Bills 224 and 225, both sponsored by Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls. Both bills cleared the House earlier this month.

Trappers, landowners, outfitters, wildlife managers and conservation advocates all spoke at the hearing. The vast majority of testimony was in opposition to the bills.

HB 224 would allow licensed trappers to kill wolves using snares. Snares are traps made from a loop of cable or another material. They are designed to strangle animals. In Montana, trappers can use snares to kill select wildlife species, including coyotes, and red foxes. Wolves are not on that list.

Fielder said the bill will give wildlife managers and sportsmen another tool for reducing wolf populations in Montana. He claimed wolf populations in the state are far higher than recommended populations in Montana’s Wolf Management Plan.

“We’ve seen evidence that snares are an effective wildlife management tool in Idaho and in the Canadian provinces to the north of it, and snares can also be an effective management tool in Montana,” he said.

Scott Boulanger of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association said the outfitting industry has suffered because of loss of wildlife, especially in the northwest corner of Montana. “We’d like to see trappers and hunters have more tools to help get those populations under control,” he said.

Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, said his organization supports ethical fair chase hunting and trapping of wolves. However, the large snares that would be used for wolf trapping could become a problem for hound hunters, other recreationists and other wildlife species, he said.

“There’s no data showing that wolves are the reason ungulate numbers are down in northwest Montana,” Gevock said. “This bill micromanages FWP, it’s problematic for native wildlife, including game species, and it would not benefit wildlife management.”

Diane Boyd, a Montana wildlife biologist and hunter, said her dog got caught in a neck snare 20 years ago while she was bird hunting. She was able to free him before he got strangled, as she’s spent decades professionally capturing and releasing wildlife.

However, most members of the general public don’t know how to release those snares, which are “nonselective and eventually fatal to dozens of species,” she said.

“These incidental fatalities create conflict that jeopardizes snaring and trapping opportunities,” and controversy over snaring “may cause an outcry to permanently shut down trapping seasons in Montana,” Boyd said.

HB 225 would allow the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to extend Montana’s wolf trapping season by about a month. If passed, the season could run from the day after Thanksgiving to March 15. The season now runs from Dec. 15 to Feb. 28.

Fielder’s bill would also write into law that the Fish and Wildlife Commission has the authority to adjust wolf hunting and trapping season dates in the state’s 18 wolf management units based on regional recommendations.

Fielder hopes HB 225 will provide wildlife managers with more flexibility for managing wolf populations. “The more tools they have, the better job they can do of managing that wildlife,” he said.

Jim Buell, president of Montana Trappers Association, said the bill does not “set in stone” wolf hunting and trapping season dates, but merely “provides parameters within which the commission may authorize a wolf trapping season.” It implies that the commission listens to experts, he said.

Jennifer Sherry, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there is no need for HB 225. She said the state already has a liberal wolf hunt, trappers are taking more wolves every year, hunter success rates are stable and the Fish and Wildlife Commission “already has the authority to set hunting and trapping regulations.”

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

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