Montana wildlife officials are considering limiting gray wolf hunting and trapping in one region of the state after 23 wolves roamed out of Yellowstone National Park and were killed in recent months.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is meeting via Zoom on Friday to discuss whether to place restrictions on gray wolf hunting within a region home to nine state parks that encompasses 18,000 square miles in southwest Montana, according to a meeting agenda.
Wildlife commissioners are meeting after 75 wolves were hunted or trapped in Region 3 during the 2021-2022 season to date. About 181 gray wolves were killed statewide as of Jan. 26, according to an agency memo. Based on the 2021-2022 wolf season regulations, the state has a hunting threshold of 450 wolves for the season that, if reached, "triggers a review by the commission."
Region 3 includes an estimated 18 percent of the state's population of wolves, according to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, so the hunting threshold is 82 wolves for that region. They had nearly hit that target in January - and the general season runs from September 15 to March 15.
In the meeting, the commission "could make no adjustments and allow the season to continue as is, they could set another threshold at which they would again evaluate harvest, or they could adjust wolf hunting and trapping regulations in part or all of the region," the memo reads.
The Associated Press reported that 23 gray wolves left the boundaries of Yellowstone and were killed in recent months, with eighteen of them hunted in Montana. A wolf pack known as the Phantom Lake Pack is being considered eliminated after its wolves were repeatedly hunted since October, according to the wire service.
The number of Yellowstone wolves that have been killed represents the highest number hunted in a season since the animals were introduced back into the region about 25 years ago, the AP noted. Once a wolf leaves parkland or a protected area, it can be hunted under Montana state law.
Gray wolves were first listed as endangered more than 45 years ago, but the population rebounded due to a recovery effort, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2020, the agency said the gray wolf population had reached 6,000 in the lower 48 states and announced that the animals were being removed from the list of animals protected under Endangered Species Act.
But in September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that it was conducting a comprehensive review of whether to put gray wolves in the western U.S. back on the list.