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Non-hunters want seat at Montana’s wolf count table

Gray Wolf. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department is coming up with a new wolf management plan, but there is disagreement over how the animals are being counted.

Critics contended the state is not taking the non-hunting public into account. Montana Fish and Wildlife said hunters and trappers took 248 wolves in the state last year, far below the allowed quota of 450. A higher number of wolves in Montana combined with extending the hunting season to six months has drawn criticism from people who love wolves, but who do not hunt them.

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Marc Cooke, executive director of the group Wolves of the Rockies, said the state is keeping so-called "nonconsumptive" wolf supporters out of the counting process, playing to big game hunting interests instead.

"By doing this, what it's doing is, it's commercializing our wildlife," Cooke contended.

Cooke argued wolf watchers have a better understanding than hunters of how many wolves there really are. The state estimates the value of tourists coming to Montana to see wolves at $82 million a year. A draft wolf management plan is expected to be released for public comment by the end of August.

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The Fish and Wildlife Department relies on hunters' surveys, estimates, pack size and territory to arrive at a wolf count, and Cooke stressed nonconsumptive Montanans, such as Wolves of the Rockies, have been kept out of the process.

"We've applied to virtually every group that the department has set up to seek guidance from the Montana community, and the department continually refuses to select us to be part of that process," Cooke explained. "They don't want us involved because the fact is we know what we're talking about."

Wolves were taken off the endangered species list in Montana and other areas of the northern Rockies in 2011, but remain protected elsewhere in the lower 48.