Yellowstone Reports

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Write to the Commission by FEB 15

New meeting date
by Ilona Popper

Jan. 5, 2018

Let them know you support preserving wolves, especially wolves that pass along the borders of Yellowstone and Montana.  The five FWP Commissioners will vote on FEB 15 to approve or change MTFWPs proposal to keep wolf hunt quotas to two wolves in 313 and two in 316. Let them know you do appreciate MTFWP not raising the quotas—that is a significant improvement over last year—but you may argue for quotas to go lower—to zero—as Bear Creek Council does in the letter below.
In our letter, Bear Creek Council proposes a sea-change in how Montana manages wolves. BCC asks Montana FWP to commit to a written goal of managing wolves in Gardiner basin for tourism and research.  As you’ll see in our letter, this would mean creating different guidelines for measuring wolf quotas and population counts near Yellowstone and Glacier parks. Please add your voice:
Dear Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commissioners, Director Williams, and Chief McDonald:
We thank Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for proposing keeping the quotas the same Wolf Hunt quotas in 313/316.  This quota comes closer to MTFWPs mission of representing all Montanan’s interests in wildlife.
Bear Creek Council’s comments on the 2018-2019 Wolf Hunt Regulations:
  • BCC would prefer no hunting or trapping of wolves in Wolf Management Units 313 and 316. We feel the same is appropriate for WMU 110 near Glacier.
  • However, if that is not possible, we will accept the proposed quota of 2 wolves harvested in WMU 313 and 2 wolves harvested in WMU 316.
  • We support a 24-hour trap check for all wolf-trapping in Montana. Anything longer is inhumane.
  • We note that reporting times and poaching have meant that more wolves are harvested each year than the stipulated quotas.
Based in Gardiner, MT, Bear Creek Council has seen firsthand how wolves are essential to our local, but also to Montana’s larger economy. Wildlife watching tourism is now one of the top economic drivers in the state. And, wolf studies in our area provide some of the world’s most valued research on predator-prey relationships and wolf biology. Since most of the biologists live in Montana and some are based at our universities, research contributes to our economy and is an export that Montana provides to the world. 
BCC wants to see a change in Montana’s overall Wolf Management approach.
Bear Creek Council is not asking that you manage wolves everywhere in MT the way we’d like you to manage them in 313/316/110 but rather that MTFWP balance biological management goals with a place-based and community-based approach. That means that wolves might be managed differently in different parts of the state.   
What would it take for MTFWP to manage wolves more like other wildlife, with different hunting units reflecting place-based priorities?
Right now wolves are not managed like any other wildlife species. MTFWP manages nearly all big game and trophy species (except wolves) under discrete units. For many species (lions, sheep, moose, etc.), there are quota systems based on myriad ecological, stakeholder, and population goals. Mountain lions and elk, for example, are managed within many individual hunting districts in Montana. Neither species is managed primarily within one huge state-wide hunting unit, like WMU 390, nor are hunters allowed the maximum take of cougars and elk, as they are with wolves.
Bear Creek Council believes that native Montana wildlife, like wolves, are intrinsically valuable and worth preserving in their own right, not just as they are valuable to people or for “use.” Yet, we respect the rights of people who wish to hunt wolves or those who kill wolves to protect their stock.
In our view, these are the major issues that MTFWP might consider when managing wolves in Montana. We list these in no particular order:
  1. Preserving a native Montana species for its intrinsic value and supporting the ecological balances between species in native habitat.
  2. Keeping a viable wolf population in Montana.
  3. Preserving healthy elk populations.
  4. Preventing livestock depredations.
  5. Creating wolf-hunter opportunity.
  6. Supporting the wildlife watching tourism industry in the state.
  7. Supporting research on wolves.
The priorities among these management goals should change, based on the science, biology, and most of all, on the ecology, the place, and the community. One way to do this is to bring back the use of many WMUs and set different quotas in each. Whatever way MTFWP chooses to do this, we simply argue that some method must take into account differing regional-local priorities and differing biological imperatives.
BCC urges managing wolves near Yellowstone and Glacier NPs differently from the rest of the state.
BCC proposes that in WMUs 313, 316, and 110, near Yellowstone and Glacier parks, the top priorities should be managing wolves to support state and worldwide tourism and research. 
We appreciate that MTFWP created WMUs 313, 316, and 110 near our national parks. It shows that MTFWP is aware of the stakeholders’ priorities in those areas. But the protections vary from year to year and the quota numbers yo-yo up and down depending on who’s on the Commission and on public perceptions and feelings.  Quotas will and should change at times, but the wide range of quota proposals over the years does not reflect the reality of our region as a wild land area supported by wildlife watching tourism, with rare depredations, and where ungulates and wolves have balanced out.
Tourism and research are connected.  Yellowstone Wolf Project biologists conduct research on wolves as part of the park's mission to understand and preserve native species and natural processes. They have produced more than 20 years of often ground-breaking research about wolf-elk dynamics.  Being able to watch wolves safely and learn from park biologists about their studies educates and enhances visitors’ experiences in the park and in Montana.
BCC is not asking for a buffer zone around Yellowstone and Glacier parks. Instead, we ask that MTFWP commit to protecting these priorities by creating written wolf management goals as the basis for setting quotas and managing wolves in 313, 316 and 110, especially when elk populations are at or above MTFWP targets in these WMUs.
Why does MTFWP count Yellowstone wolf packs and Montana wolf packs one way when you are surveying wolf numbers and count them another way when you are determining the wolf hunt quota?
Every year, the MTFWP Wolf Specialist in our region collaborates with the Yellowstone Wolf Project in identifying packs in the area.  For surveying purposes (and for radio collaring), a pack becomes a Montana pack if it is located by telemetry in Montana 51% of the time or a Yellowstone pack if it is located in Yellowstone 51% of the time. If the pack uses YNP and Montana equally, then the location of the pack’s den becomes the tie-breaker.
Yes—when a wolf from a Yellowstone-based pack crosses the park boundary during hunting season, it is fair game. We don’t dispute that.  But for determining the hunt quota, MTFWP counts every wolf that enters Gardiner Basin, even if it is documented by telemetry to belong to a YNP pack and to spend 99% of its time in the park. The problem is that the way MTFWP counts wolves in the Gardiner area inflates the numbers, most recently to 30.  In reality, we have about 12 wolves regularly using the area. As you know, wolves are territorial, so this number remains fairly constant. 
The state goal of harvesting 29% of wolves each year is too high for WMUs 313, 316, and 110.      
Since wolves in the Gardiner area and Yellowstone are valued for our wildlife watching tourism industry, it becomes crucial that the wolf population count is accurate.
Even if Gardiner Basin had 30 wolves—which it doesn’t—Bear Creek Council suggests that MTFWP set a harvest rate that is far lower than 29% in WMUs 313, 316, and 110.  Why?  In a place where tourism is so crucial and the wolf population remains rather low, the goal should be to increase or maintain wolf populations, not to decrease wolves. 
Why aren’t Wildlife Watching Tourism and Research listed in your MTFWPs “Measurable Objective #3: to maintain positive and effective working relationships with livestock producers, hunters, and other stakeholders?” 
Tourism, specifically wolf tourism, is too large an economic force in Montana to be swept into the catch-all of “others.”  We want Wildlife Watching Tourism to be a named stakeholder group.  Also, we feel biological and ecological researchers should be named. They are an important and overlooked stakeholder group.
We appreciate the difficult work MTFWP does in balancing biology and stakeholder needs.  We submit this proposal respectfully, so you know the needs of our region and our attitudes towards the wildlife here.  Thank you.
Nathan Varley, President Bear Creek Council

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