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Last Friday, Montana Fish & Wildlife Commissioners held a meeting to determine whether the districts that border Yellowstone National Park should end their wolf hunting and trapping season early after hunters killed a record-high 23 wolves in the area. Recognizing that the park’s boundary is being disproportionately affected by this season’s harvests, commissioners unanimously moved to close the entire region 3 when it meets the quota of 82 wolf harvests. Districts 313, and 316, which neighbor the park boundary, will remain open until the quota is met. As of Friday, 76 wolves had been killed in the entire region.
While wolves are protected within the Yellowstone boundaries, animals that wander outside of the park can be killed. In a letter released on Friday, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly pointed out to Montana Wildlife Commissioners that resident wolves spend only 5% of their time outside of the park, and argued that there has only been one verified wolf attack on livestock in the region in the county to the north of the park in the last 3 years. Sholly asked the commission to consider cutting the hunting season short in order to protect the wolf population. Just 91 wolves are living in Yellowstone today, which accounts for a 23% decrease in the park’s population since 2020.
In 2021, at the urging of local farmers and hunters, Montana state legislators removed wolf quotas in some regions, while softening trapping and hunting regulations to legalize night hunting and baiting. The Department of the Interior is currently studying the possibility of returning some federal protections to wolves in the northern Rockies, putting the future of Montana’s wolf hunt in jeopardy.
Republican Gov. Greg Gianfort reportedly responded to Sholly’s letter, saying that wolves that leave the park boundaries are legal to kill in Montana according to the Montana legislature. Gianforte himself caused an uproar last year when he trapped and killed a wolf with a Yellowstone radio-collar without taking a state-mandated trapper education course; he received a written warning. Gianforte had previously received a $70 fine in 2000 after illegally killing an elk.
Across the state, Montana has seen 184 wolf harvests since the season began. The statewide wolf population is estimated to be 1,000 wolves. Commissioners expect to see a small population decline in wolf populations after this year’s harvests, with Yellowstone seeing a disproportionate share of that decline.