Montana preparing for
managing wolves someday

Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder



March 15, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson


Wolves and grizzly bears seem to be on people's minds more and more these days.

We see it in our regular meetings with various groups in the Seeley Lake area. Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) folks may come prepared to discuss elk population trends or deer hunting regulations or habitat management issues. But, before long, the subject often turns to the large carnivores that are managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the authority of the federal Endangered Species Act.

And, why not? More people seem to be seeing wolves and grizzly bears in our area, and we all tend to assumewhether rightly or wronglythat it's because their numbers are increasing. Of course, our management of elk, deer and habitat affects wolves and grizzly bears as well. Wolves and grizzly bears, in turn, may affect the numbers of deer and elk available to sustain public hunting.

I think it's fair to say that a bit of frustration has accompanied some of the comments I've heard about wolves and grizzly bears. In my opinion, part of that frustration stems from FWP's lack of experience and expertise in addressing wolf management issues in particular. Sometimes, we'll even get to enjoy a compliment on our professionalism in deer and elk management before having to swallow hard on the punchline, "But, you guys really don't seem to know what to do about wolves."

The other part of the frustration comes from a lack of local control. The fact is, that even if we did have all the answers in wolf management, Montana FWP does not currently have the authority to manage wolves. That authority presently rests with the federal government, within the limitations of the Endangered Species Act. Whether we're talking with the Western Montana Fish and Game Association (a Missoula-based sportsmen's club), the Blackfoot-Clearwater Citizens' Advisory Council, or local outfitters, the question is always the same.

"How can you manage the prey without also having the ability to manage the predators?"

Well, things are beginning to change, according to Chase Hibbard, a longtime Helena-area rancher, and Chair of the Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council (MWMAC). Mr. Hibbard addressed the annual meeting of the Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society in Butte on March 1.

The MWMAC consists of 15 members who were appointed by Governor Racicot in 2000, and who represent a variety of interests across Montana including agriculture, hunting and wildlife conservation. In his presentation at Butte, Hibbard hit the high points of the Advisory Council's Report to the Governor, which was completed on December 7. Not wanting to trust my hurried notes from his speech, I found the full report on FWP's Internet web site at If you visit this site, you'll also find an opportunity to offer your comments online.

As Hibbard noted, the first full sentence of the Advisory Council's report is a strong statement for someone who has raised sheep all his life, and is an officer of the Montana Woolgrowers Association:

"The State of Montana is committed to recovering wolves."

But, as he went on to explain, it is the fundamental first step if Montana wants to regain management control of the wolves living within its borders. Because the overwhelming national interest that placed wolves on the Endangered Species List in the first place is not going away. What may go away is the continued need for federal management control of the wolf once recovery goals are met.

It's up to the State of Montana to submit a satisfactory management plan that addresses the diverse interests of our people, and meets with the approval of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. FWP is beginning work on that plan, taking direction from the MWMAC and adding technical information from FWP and Service biologists. FWP biologists from Region 2 (Missoula area) traveled to Ninepipes Wildlife Management Area last week to collaborate on this effort with biologists from Region 1 (Kalispell area). Carolyn Sime, a talented research biologist in Kalispell, is coordinating the technical development of the draft wolf management plan for FWP.

Montana is willing to accept management responsibility for its wildlife, including the wolf. But, are we able? The purpose of the management plan is to answer that question objectively, and work out the unknowns of "how," "who" and "where will the money come from?"

We encourage you to get involved. An excellent place to start would be at the web site I listed earlier in this article. You'll find plenty of clear, concise information to get you started.

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