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Montana recently relaxed its rules on hunting wolves near the Yellowstone border, and this season, a record number of wolves that wandered outside the park’s limits have been killed.Park officials say that 20 of the animals have been killed by hunters so far this season, 15 of which were taken in Montana. The other five were shot in Wyoming and Idaho. The figures include animals from the Phantom Lake Pack, which park officials say is now considered eliminated because most or all of its members were among those killed.
With wolf trapping season just getting started, officials believe even more of the park’s remaining 94 wolves will be lost.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the park says this is “a significant setback for the species’ long-term viability and for wolf research.”
Park superintendent Cam Sholly has urged Montana Governor Greg Gianforte to shut down hunting and trapping for the rest of the season in the area near the park due to the “extraordinary number” of Yellowstone wolves already killed. He’s asking the state to reinstate former hunting limits on lands bordering the park, which were eliminated last year. Prior to that, only a few animals were allowed to be taken. This year, the quota for southwestern Montana – which includes these bordering regions – is 82.
Hunting and trapping rules have also been loosened, allowing for the use of bait and snares.
Yellowstone spokesperson Morgan Warthin says these rule changes are also worrying, explaining, “Allowances for trapping and especially baiting are a major concern, especially if these tactics lure wolves out of the park.”
Gianforte, who saw some controversy last year after trapping and shooting a radio-collared wolf ten miles north of the park border without taking a required trapper education course, wrote a letter in response to Sholly. He said Montana protects against overhunting and can review hunting seasons if the number of animals taken exceeds a certain threshold.
He added, “Once a wolf exits the park and enters lands in the State of Montana it may be harvested pursuant to regulations established by the (state wildlife) Commission under Montana law.”
Between 1995 and 1997, 41 wild wolves from Canada and northwestern Montana were released into Yellowstone. By 2007, their population had grown to 171. The gray wolf was then removed from the endangered species list in Montana in 2011. Yellowstone’s website notes that as the population grew, more animals dispersed throughout the surrounding regions, where they are less protected from human-caused mortality.
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was reviewing whether gray wolves should be re-listed under the Endangered Species Act, noting that new rules in Idaho and Montana “may not be adequate” to protect the animals from an increase in human-caused mortality.
If you’d like to help reinstate ESA protections for the gray wolf, sign this petition.