Montana considers new rules to curb wolves amid public ire

Montana considers new rules to curb wolves amid public ire

HELENA — A Montana commission advanced Thursday proposed rules that would allow the use of snares to hunt wolves and extend the wolf trapping season after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed laws earlier this year meant to reduce the state’s wolf population.

But the lawmaker who sponsored the laws said the department responsible for crafting the rules did not go far enough.

Rep. Paul Fielder, a Republican lawmaker from Thompson Falls, said the rules proposed by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department do not meet the “legislative intent” of the bills passed earlier this year, which he said were meant to reduce the wolf populations in western Montana, home to most of the state’s wolves. The intent, he said, was to reduce the state’s wolf population to 15 breeding pairs, or around 280 wolves — from around 950 according to current department estimates.

Department staff proposed allowing the use of snares to capture wolves only on private land, while the law sponsored by Fielder did not place any limits on the use of snares. Department staff said during a hearing on the proposed rules Thursday that excluding the use of snares on public land would reduce the chances of capturing domestic animals and conflict with other recreational uses of public land.

“The legislative process has thoroughly vetted these bills and the intent of these bills,” Fielder said. “It’s up to the Commission to now implement the laws.”

Supporters of the laws are comprised of big game outfitters and ranchers who said that the wolves prey on domesticated livestock and reduce big game hunting opportunities in the state.

However, dozens of members of the public, including environmentalists and landowners in western Montana, spoke during the Fish and Game Commission hearing Thursday to oppose the rule changes, saying the use of snares and expanding the trapping season would harm endangered grizzly bear and lynx populations in the state.

A coalition of environmental groups has already threatened to sue the state if the rules are implemented without sufficient protection for lynx and grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Opponents said the rules could deter some of the millions of tourists who visit Yellowstone National Park and nearby areas annually, many eager to see wolves in their natural habitat.

Speakers opposing the proposed rules also said they could harm the state’s ecology by causing the number of big game such as elk and deer to increase.

“The value of wolves in the wild for Montana far exceeds the value of destroying them and destroying our habitat as a result of it,” said Steve Capta, director of Footloose Montana, an organization that opposes trapping on public lands in the state.

The Commission will continue to accept public comment on the proposed rules for 30 days, and is not expected to make a final decision on the rules until August.

This article by Iris Samuels was first published by The Great Falls Tribune on 1 July 2021. Iris Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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