Weary of hearing cries of wolf over management plans

Great Falls Tribune

by Editorial

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission acted decisively Thursday on setting a quota of 220 wolves for a wolf-hunting season, and we join the majority of Montanans in welcoming the move.

We’re not nuts about how it came about (more on that in a moment), and we’re sure the actual number could be subject to change based on information provided during a two month comment period, but the result, we believe, is a reasonable one (unless you’re a wolf).

A little background in case you’ve been hibernating for a few months: In 2009, federal wildlife officials removed Northern Rockies wolves from Endangered Species Act protection, except in Wyoming — where state officials’ “management plan” for the restored population of animals consisted basically of “kill them all, except in Yellowstone.”

Based on that partition, wildlife interests filed suit and a federal judge in Missoula agreed with them that, in effect, state lines have no validity in establishing a species protection area.

Last month, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep.

Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, tacked a rider onto the major appropriations bill requiring that the region’s wolves — again, with the exception of Wyoming — be delisted, and the Interior Department last week complied.

That has prompted two things: » The FWP Commission’s vote Thursday to take over wolf management and reauthorize a wolf hunt in the state; and » A new lawsuit by conservation groups, this time challenging the constitutionality of the congressional action.

Once again, the ball goes into the courts’ court, but in the meantime Montana is proceeding with preparing for a wolf-hunting season in which 220 animals could be taken.

It boils down to a numbers game and whom you believe about the science.

When wolf re-introduction first started in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding area, the targets for a sustainable population were said to be in the hundreds.

There are now about 1,650 in the region, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared last week that the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies was biologicially recovered and that states could take over their management.

“We’re proceeding with the assumption we’ll be managing wolves,” said Ron Asheim, a spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “That was the purpose of the legislation.”

Montana’s share of the wolf population was at least 566 at the close of 2010, wildlife officials said. Under the state’s plan, the population will stay above 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in the state.

The plan now enters a public comment period that lasts until June 20, and the commission’s final decision is expected July 14.

In a case of moving the goalposts after the kickoff, the plaintiffs in the suit say science puts the population necessary for recovery at as many as 5,000 wolves in the region.

That’s not what was originally targeted, and it’ll never fly politically.

As noted above, we’re not crazy about Congress micromanaging the Endangered Species Act, much of the purpose of which is to minimize political meddling in scientifically justified moves.

But in this case we join Tester and, we’re sure, most Montanans who are tired of hearing cries of wolf over state management plans.