Friday, February 17, 2012

FWP rejects Bitterroot wolf hunt extension

By EVE BYRON Independent Record and PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic

Dustin Nielson of Darby's Big Bear Taxidermy examines a wolf pelt from Alaska. Nielson hopes that this year's wolf hunting season will mean more work for the Darby shop where local business has dropped with the recent decline in elk numbers.

Citing a precipitous and somewhat mysterious drop in mule deer numbers in portions of Montana, the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission made numerous changes Thursday that will allow fewer does to be taken by hunters.

The move came on a day when the commission also decided not to extend the wolf hunting season in the southern Bitterroot Valley, where elk populations have plummeted.

The proposal was voted down 5-0. It would have allowed the hunt to continue in the area near the Idaho border until April 1.

FWP commissioners said they were reluctant to approve a piecemeal extension of the hunt instead of taking a statewide approach. They also said they did not want to disturb an ongoing elk study.
Hunters had pushed for the extension, citing the decline in elk numbers. Just six wolves were killed out of the Bitterroot's quota of 18.

The decision left some Bitterroot Valley residents unhappy.

"We are big-time disappointed with the commission's decision," said Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association president Tony Jones. "It was something that we thought was needed and had to happen. ... It doesn't appear that we are going to get any help on our predator problems from the commission or the department."

Said Ravalli County Commissioner Suzy Foss: "There are not a lot of happy campers in the Bitterroot today, especially those ranchers and hunters who have worked so hard to try to have a voice in this. They feel like they are being totally ignored."

Montana's wolf hunt ended on Wednesday. The 166 wolves reported killed equal 75 percent of the state's 220-animal quota.