Mar 28, 2011 1:12 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX
HAMILTON, MT - A new federally-prepared report suggests hunting wolves is the "preferred alternative" for rebuilding elk herds along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.
That's one of the recommendations in the new Draft Environmental Assessment released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday morning. The agency has been analyzing plans to rebuild elk populations in the management unit southwest of Darby.
For the entire West Fork Unit, state surveys last year estimated there were just over 760 elk in the area. But biologists for the State of Montana say it takes 1,600 to 2,400 elk to create a sustainable population for that area of the Bitterroot.
Two years ago USFWS revised its wolf management rules under the Endangered Species Act to allow states and tribes to kill wolves within the "experimental population area" when the predators are having an "unacceptable impact" on elk and deer populations. Conservation groups are contesting that provision in federal court.
Last fall, Montana asked for permission to kill some wolves along the West Fork to save elk. If approved, the state would be allowed to thin the wolf population from the current 30 wolves in three to five packs to a minimum of 12 wolves in two to three packs.
The state has already tried other methods of helping the West Fork elk herds, including trimming the number of elk hunters can take in recent seasons and extending seasons on other predators such as cougars and bears.
The draft EA's preferred alternative is to allow the selected hunts by the state. However there's also a "no action" alternative where the Fish and Wildlife Service would continue to remove wolves only when they kill livestock, pack animals or dogs.
Written comments on the proposal are being accepted through April 12th.
The Notice of Availability of the EA is available on the Federal Register website. The public is encouraged to review the draft EA and submit comments on site-specific effects of the proposed action. Written comments and information concerning this proposal must be submitted by one of the following methods:
* Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
* U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0022; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
The draft EA is also available on the Service's website along with the state's proposal, peer review and the state's responses to the peer review.