Wednesday, August 22, 2012

FWP evaluation wolf-livestock depredation response

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 

State wildlife officials are seeking comments from Montana's county commissioners and Indian Tribes on policies that define how wolf managers respond to confirmed wolf depredations on livestock.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is currently working to revise the response protocol to improve the effectiveness of animal damage management while still meeting all of the objectives of the Montana's wolf conservation and management program, said Ken McDonald, wildlife bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena.

The request for comments from Tribes and County Commissioners to the draft revisions to Montana's Wolf Depredation Response Protocol are in compliance with a law passed by the Montana Legislature in 2011.

"Most successful response protocols aimed at removing depredating wolves are carried out in the immediate vicinity of the livestock damage and as soon as possible following a confirmed depredation," McDonald explained. "The intent of this revised set of guidelines is aimed at allowing federal Wildlife Services to accurately identify and remove offending wolves as quickly as possible."

Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides expertise to states to resolve wildlife conflicts. Montana's existing livestock depredation policy requires Wildlife Services to obtain direction from FWP before removing a specified number of offending wolves.

The proposed policy revisions would authorize or require Wildlife Services to:

*identify, target and remove confirmed depredating wolves.

*avoid lethal removal of non-problem wolves in areas near the site of a depredation.

*collar and release at least one wolf when a confirmed depredation occurs in an area where wolves haven't been previously collared and where it can't determine which wolves were involved in the depredation. Radio collars allow wildlife biologists to follow wolves and learn more about their pack size and structure, territory and habits.

*report to FWP when each control action is initiated and terminated and provide the results of every control effort.

"The bottom line is that regular and open communication between FWP and Wildlife Services' field staff will be expected," McDonald stressed.

The 2011 legislation requires FWP to ensure that county commissions and tribal governments have the opportunity for consultation prior to decisions on policies such as the draft wolf depredation response.

Montana’s county commissions and Tribal governments can comment through Sept. 21.  Following the receipt of those comments, FWP will finalize the new protocol, which will be reassessed within a year to determine its impact on overall effectiveness related to livestock losses, agency response times and costs, and the wolf population itself, McDonald said.

The minimum Montana wolf population estimates at the end of 2011 include 653 wolves, in 130 verified packs, and 39 breeding pairs. The minimum wolf count is the number of wolves actually counted by FWP wolf specialists, and likely is 10 to 30 percent fewer than the actual wolf population.   

FWP has led wolf management under the federal guidelines since 2004. The delisting of wolves in 2011 allows Montana to manage wolves in a manner similar to how bears, mountain lions and other wildlife species are managed, which is guided by state management plans, administrative rules, and laws.

To learn more about Montana’s wolf population, visit FWP online at Click "For Fish &Wildlife Information", then click Montana Wolves.