|HAMILTON - Ravalli County residents alternatively urged their commissioners Thursday to allow the shooting of wolves on sight and to listen to science rather than anecdotes as they write a countywide predator control policy.
"The policy has become too extreme," said Dan Kerslake, a rancher from Stevensville. "I think it should be based more on science instead of politics. Implementing a ‘kill all the wolves' policy is too extreme, but you also can't just let wolves run wild in your backyard."
Kerslake urged the commissioners to put more weight on scientific facts than on stories from Bitterroot Valley residents. He questioned whether the commissioners had factored in disease, starvation, weather and other factors to account for declining elk numbers.
However, Rena Weatherall told the board that she has documents from Idaho Fish and Game showing that four out of five wolves carry parasites that can kill people, and that all wolves should be "shot on sight."
And Julie Schram said wolf pups killed some of her stock.
"It was 4-month-old puppies killing my stock!" she shouted.
The county commissioners are considering a draft predator control policy, intended for eventual submission to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The policy suggests no quota on wolf hunting in Ravalli County, a wolf-hunting season running from Aug. 30 to June 30, trapping permitted Nov. 15 to March 15, snaring of wolves, a nonresident wolf hunting fee of $31.75 and over-the-counter tags available at any time.
In addition, the proposal would allow wolf hunters to use electronic calls in the Bitterroot; a deer or elk tag could be used on a wolf during the general season; hunters could get five wolf tags per year, including trapping; no hunter orange requirement for wolf hunters; but no baiting of wolves. Wolves also could be killed incidentally over a bear bait.
Commissioners drafted the policy partly in response to public outcry over declining numbers of elk in the Bitterroot.
After a lengthy and emotional discussion, commissioners decided to hold off on adopting the draft policy. Instead, they will spend the next few weeks writing a final version, then will schedule another meeting to consider its adoption.
On Thursday, Tony Stark of Stevensville said that wolves might be in danger of becoming extinct in the area again if the hunting season is extended into June, when wolves are denning.
"Wolves have been extinct here before," she said. "If we are hunting during denning season, then we can in fact render them extinct again."
Ravalli County Commission chairman Matt Kanenwisher addressed the large crowd before commissioners each gave their input on changes to the draft.
"The purpose of the policy is to define a position that represents what we believe is the position of the majority of citizens in Ravalli County," he said. "And protecting the tax base of the county. A policy is not a constitutional amendment - it can be rewritten and added to - and that's the point."
Commissioners went through the draft item by item, addressing minor issues and making suggestions for changes.
For example, Kanenwisher agreed, at the behest of Commissioner J.R. Iman, to take out a section that suggested "people value their time in the woods as much as religious worship."
"I certainly understand Commissioner Iman's concern and reasoning for removing that phrase," Kanenwisher said.
Commissioner Suzy Foss suggested that the board "not let mountain lions get thrown under the bus," forcing them to take the blame for wolf kills. She suggested that many times, wolves are responsible for the initial killing of an elk and do not leave scat, while a mountain lion will feed on the kill site and leave scat, so that biologists record it as a mountain lion kill.