And members later agreed to send a letter to federal officials that broadened the scope from an earlier proposal to delist grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystems area to the entire state.
There are an estimated 536 wolves in Montana in 2015, down 18 from the year before and 32 breeding pairs, down from two, said Ken McDonald, Fish, Wildlife and Parks division administrator.
According to a 2015 annual management report from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in northwest Montana officials verified 349 wolves in 85 packs. In western Montana, 78 wolves were verified in 22 packs, four of which were breeding pairs and in southwest Montana there were 109 wolves in 19 packs verified, eight of which were breeding pairs.
Wolves were delisted in 2011, when state management took full effect through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks using a combination of federal funds and sportsman dollars.
According to the report, the U.S. Department of Wildlife Services reported 64 livestock losses in 2015 due to wolves compared to 47 in 2014. During 2015, the Montana Livestock Loss Board paid $79,312 for livestock killed by wolves.
The reported noted 51 wolves were killed to reduce further losses, the lowest number killed due to depredation in 10 years. Of those 51, 35 were killed by Wildlife Services and 16 were killed by private citizens.
McDonald said the number of wolf complaints has decreased steadily from 233 in 2009 to 91 in 2015.
Nick Gevock, conservation director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the state and federal departments involved in the wolf program deserve praise.
“It’s a healthy number of wolves geographically,” he said. “I think this proves the state can do it.”
In other numbers, wolf license sales generated $455,000 for wolf management in 2014 and $417,000 in 2015.
In 2014, Montana held its fifth wolf season; 206 wolves were taken: 60 percent by hunters, 40 percent by trappers. In 2015, 210 wolves were taken; 65 percent by hunters, 35 percent by trappers, state officials said.
The EQC then reviewed a proposal to remove the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem population of grizzly bears from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife.
The federal government, in its report, stated the population has recovered and no longer meets the federal guidelines of a threatened species. The ecosystem includes five national forests including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Mike Hagener, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director, said this was for a “recovered” group of bears and the state should be proud about its grizzly bear numbers. He said they have grown from about 200 in the 1970s to 700 bears now.
The federal government was taking comment on the proposal until May 10.
Chelcie Cargill of the Montana Farm Bureau said her organization supported statewide delisting, noting that grizzly bears caused $111,126 in livestock losses to a confirmed 84 animals in 2015 and $55,151 in losses to 32 animals in 2014.
Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, said he asked that two letters be sent to the federal government. One of the letters should state that the EQC supports delisting the bears in Yellowstone and the other letter says it supports delisting grizzly bears in the entire state.
After some debate, in which Brenden resisted suggestions to turn his motion into two separate proposals, the measure passed 11-5.
To read the gray wolf management report, go to: http://1.usa.gov/24ADA8J
To read about delisting of grizzly bears, go to: http://1.usa.gov/1rYBSjP