Montana’s wolf quota has been lowered for the upcoming season. Previously, hunters and trappers were allowed to harvest 456 wolves during the 2022-23 season; however, for the 2023-24 season, maximum number is now 313 wolves, according to the Independent Record.
The decision was met with mixed results as the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission’s vice chair Pat Tabor vocalized the need to increase the quota rather than decrease it. Tabor believes the current wolf population is behind recent declines in mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and moose across the state.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to ensure this harmonization of these ungulate populations, especially if they’re in severe decline, but at the same time target a good, healthy, sustainable population in wolves and bears and lions and everything else,” said Tabor.
Public sentiment wasn’t in complete agreement with Tabor although the commission did permit another 24 wolves to be killed west of the Continental Divide.
The state’s wolf objective must follow a 2021 law that requires the commission to “reduce the number of wolves” to what’s considered a “sustainable level” with a minimum of 15 breeding pairs, according to the Independent Record.
Yet that is easier said than done.
“[T]here’s no ironclad number of wolves that can guarantee that level,” said Brian Wakeling, game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Population modeling by the agency puts it somewhere in the vicinity of a minimum 450 wolves in the state,” acknowledging that “the science isn’t always in sync with the politics that surround the issue.”
“There is no right number,” said Wakeling. “It’s a number that can be managed. Our social sideboards tend to be more narrow than what our biological sideboards are.”
The last Montana wolf estimate was completed in 2022 with a rough count of 1,100 animals. And wolf numbers have been creeping towards a potential sustainable number with the population dropping over the last two years.
“What we’re proposing to do is put a cap on the total harvest of wolves that’s a little lower, so that what we’re able to do is mitigate the pace at which that reduction should continue,” said Wakeling. “... We expect it to keep going down at the same rate, possibly a little quicker, because (with) a small population, harvest stays the same, we’ll see it go down quicker.”