Not satisfied with the number of wolves killed in Montana, Ravalli County will vote on Monday to up the quotas on wolves. Meanwhile a group of livestock owners, plan to take advantage of a state law, to set bounties of $100 for a wolf and $20 for a pup.
Local ranchers and Ravalli County commissioners say they are fed up with failed state efforts to reduce wolf numbers and are now looking to take matters into their own hands. The move came despite a meeting planned this Wednesday by Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to address the issue.
When Congress lifted endangered species protections for wolves last May, hunting quotas were set at 220 wolves. Despite an extended season, 165 were taken in MT hunts. It is a number that County commissioners say is not enough. And on Monday, they plan to vote on a new county wolf policy that will increase hunting quotas substantially.
In a report released by FWP this week, by the end of 2011, wolf numbers were estimated to be around 653 wolves. This was 87 more than at the end of 2010, and exceeded the ideal number of 495 wolves established by FWP. But disgruntled ranchers want to go even further and plan to petition Ravalli commissioners to impose a fee on county livestock. It would mean a bounty for every wolf, mountain lion and coyote killed.
The Livestock Protection Group, a grassroots organization of unified ranchers, said they are uncertain whether money incentives could work, but according to the Ravalli Republic, the group is planning to take advantage of a 1930 Montana state law.
The law includes a provision for predator bounties, which the Livestock Protection Group said are needed because the state's wolf policy is not working. The petition sets established bounties at:
"$100 for a wolf or mountain lion and $20 for a wolf pup or mountain lion kitten. Coyotes will bring $5 for an adult and $2.50 for a pup."
Darby rancher Scott Boulanger, told the Billings Gazette yesterday:
"Predation in our county is out of control and Fish, Wildlife and Parks is in denial. Their management and predator protection philosophies have driven us to the point where we are now."
Wolves were initially removed from endangered status in 2009 prompting plans for the management of a hunt season. Conservation groups successfully sued to block the hunts until congressional action removed their endangered status protection in 2011. Montana resumed wolf hunting last September, after attempts to block the hunt by wolf advocates failed.
The Washington DC-based conservation group, Defenders of Wildlife, has long advocated for the use of nonlethal tools and methods to control conflicts between wildlife and ranchers. In a 2008 report, the group suggested that if ranchers worked proactively, they could "prevent carnivores from being attracted to [...any...] livestock operation in the first place." This, they said, "is often the best strategy of all."
Despite Ravalli County commissioners plans to vote on Monday about whether to raise quotas or not, if the policy established goes against state law, then it might not amount to much. Still, said Ravalli County Commission chairman Matt Kanenwisher, it would be a "resolution for the state agency to consider incorporating into its wildlife management plan."