Green Fires

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It’s safe to say that there’s not a lot of sympathy for folks who like toothy critters in Montana. At least that’s what the papers and the blogs seem to say. It seems like you have to think that deer, elk and other species of wildlife exist simply for our hunting opportunity rather than follow the North American Model and Aldo Leopold’s vision: We’re here to serve wildlife rather than have it serve us. Some folks haven’t missed that though.

I see a lot of guys who run hounds stand up both at the FWP Commission and the Legislature fighting policies that would lead to greatly reduced lion hunting opportunity.

This session, bear hunting advocates came out in force to support spot and stalk hunting as Montana’s only form of hunting. They eschewed hunting with hounds and baiting in support of a wild hunt.

Montanan’s hunt. That’s what we do in large part. We hunt both predators and prey. We’re proud of that and we should be. The NorthAmerican Model of Fish & Wildlife Conservation has been proven to work by our own professionals, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
So that’s why it’s a little sad to see how far FWP has decided to push the wolf hunting season. This past winter, the Legislature passed HB 73, which gave FWP broad powers in regulating the hunting of wolves.

We supported that bill, for the record. The bill gave FWP the ability to issue multiple permits per hunter/trapper, eliminated the use of hunter orange outside of the general firearms season, allowed for electronic calls, lowered the price for non-resident wolf hunters and prohibited the FWP Commission from closing wolf hunting around the boundaries of our National Parks. Overall, it was a decent bill. It was a compromise between wildlife managers & politicians.
As with all power, responsibility follows along.

Let’s be honest: We’re all new at wolf hunting. We’re bound to get some things right and some things wrong. In 2012, Montanans took over 250 wolves resulting in a slight decline in the population (4%). That shows that hunting and trapping can effectively control the population. Accordingly, FWP announced that they were going to continue to try and reduce the wolf population.

FWP made good on their word that they would institute a more liberal hunting season and in so doing, made a few mistakes. All of the components from HB 73 were in the proposal plus a couple of more troubling new proposals:

Those being the allowing wolves to be shot over trapping attractants (baiting) and extending the season until March 31st.

Wolf hunting in Montana starts on September 1st. It currently runs until February 15th. That’s 4 ½ months of chasing wolves if you’re inclined. The reason that the season was put in place for these dates was to help reduce the incidents of harvesting heavily pregnant or whelping wolves. That’s a common sense regulation that helps ensure hunters don’t disproportionately impact populations and it follows the ethical rules laid out in the Seven Sisters of Conservation. We don’t shoot elk in April and we don’t allow for the harvest of female bears with young in tow. We should honor those commitments and not extend the hunting season for wolves because of these same ethical choices. Likewise with shooting wolves over trap baits. Certainly we can see a scenario where someone goes to check their traps or stumbles on a trap line and wolves are close by because of the baits. However, allowing the deliberate take of a wolf while it is over bait disrespects the traditions Montana’s hunters have set forward for fair chase hunting.

If this truly is an issue, leave it up to the Game Warden to make the call. The discretion of our Game Wardens is often times more critical in deciding the intent and the situation that led to the harvest. It should remain within their purview to decide if someone was intentionally hunting over bait rather than simply being opportunistic when they saw a wolf.

The best piece of advice my father ever gave me was simply; measure twice, cut once. Be conservative in your actions and deliberate in their execution. I can’t say I’ve always followed that advice, but when I have, the wisdom in those words is painfully clear.

FWP, up until this point, has made a conscientious and professional effort to manage wolves like any other game species. Most Montanans have supported their efforts in the past and to be sure support a great deal about this proposal. However, baiting and late hunting of wolves does not respect our ethics or the wolf itself.

The comment period is open until June 24th. You can send FWP your comments by clicking here. How Montana treats all wildlife is important, even the troublesome species.

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Hellgate Hunters and Anglers
Our Mission is to conserve Montana's wildlife, wild places, and fair-chase hunting and fishing heritage.