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Tourism business owners criticize Montana wolf hunting rules

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Posted at 10:01 AM, Dec 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-07 12:01:56-05

BOZEMAN — At a recent public hearing in Bozeman, business owners told Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks representatives that the agency needs to give greater weight to tourism when it makes wolf hunting rules.

“A wolf close to Yellowstone National Park has great economic value,” Jim Bell of Bozeman said at the meeting.

“This plan makes it very clear, really throughout that there is a goal, and that the goal is to kill as many wolves as we can as fast as we can,” said the Sierra Club’s Nick Gevock.

But FWP managers pushed back.

“The direction has been to reduce it, but not below this level. So there's some real sideboards there,” said Brian Wakeling, the agency's game management bureau chief.

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For instance, the Montana wolf harvest quota this season is 313 animals. The majority of those are allotted to northwestern Montana zones.

“We have the current population size, that is the upper level. We have this minimum requirement that aligns with the federal recovery. That is a lower level. But really the population can waver anywhere within there,” said Samantha Fino, the FWP wolf plan coordinator.

Statistics posted on the FWP website show that from 2015 to 2020 the wolf harvest in Montana grew steadily. But during the past two years, harvest numbers were down.

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While FWP estimates that Montana needs at least 450 wolves to maintain 15 breeding pairs, managers insist there is no peak harvest number.

"We do not want to identify a specific population target in the plan because it can vary in the future based on a variety of factors,” Fino said.

Those factors might include diseases, changes in prey populations, or other environmental factors.

No one at the meeting spoke in favor of hunters or ranchers, though that might be expected in this part of Montana where live wolves are considered an economic asset.

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Jeff Reed, a Park County lodging business owner, said he was also a producer in the agriculture industry, but questioned whether the FWP puts equal value on agriculture and tourism interests.

“We're a four billion, roughly, Ag industry in the state," he said. "We're a four billion dollar tourism economy, which is largely overseen by Department of Commerce. Until this state acknowledges that those two industries are major industries, then it looks political within FWP.”

He zeroed in on his own backyard of Park County when he said, “And when you come to a community that's half a billion dollars tied to tourism and 40 million tied to ranching, you feel left out.”

FWP officials reminded those at the meeting that their comments would not be part of the record on the issue and urged those attending to go to the FWP website to post comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement and Wolf Management Plan in an official manner.