Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing a change in protocol for wolf management, which officials say would help speed up the process of addressing livestock depredation problems.
The proposal would give more discretion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services field personnel on how to address wolves that kill livestock, said Ken McDonald, FWP bureau chief in Helena.
“The intent is really just to be more effective in how we address livestock depredation,” McDonald said.
Under current protocol, Wildlife Services personnel investigate livestock depredations, but must get approval for management actions from FWP officials. This communication can lead to a lag time between depredations and actually getting on the ground to try and solve the problem, he said.
“The real intent of depredation response is targeting offending wolves,” McDonald said. “The way you do that is you get them as quickly and as close to the site of the depredation as you can.”
The proposal is being sent out to county commissioners in impacted counties along with tribal officials around the state to get their feedback.
In Madison County, commissioner Dave Schulz welcomes the proposal.
Livestock producers have routinely found it easy to work with Wildlife Services personnel, Schulz said.
Wildlife Services provides predator control to livestock producers around the state, which means wolves as well as coyotes, mountain lions and bears. Since as an agency Wildlife Services is already in the business of managing predators for the livestock industry, giving them more authority for managing wolf depredations makes sense, he said.
The Madison County Commissioners plan on commenting on the proposed protocol before the Sept. 21 deadline.
Another reason for the change is the “firmly established” wolf population in Montana. FWP’s low estimate for wolves in Montana is about 650, but that number could be more by between 10 and 30 percent, McDonald said.
The population is at a level where wolves should start being managed like other predators, he said. The changes in protocol with Wildlife Services will mirror the way Wildlife Services and FWP deal with other predators.
“We’re just sort of emulating what we do with mountain lions and bears,” McDonald said.
However, he doesn’t see the change in protocol translating into an increase in the number of wolves killed as a result of livestock depredation. He expects Wildlife Services to continue the philosophy and focus of targeting offending wolves.
According to a press release announcing the proposal: “The proposed policy revisions would authorize or require Wildlife Services to: identify, target and remove depredating wolves, avoid lethal removal of non-problem wolves in areas near the site of a depredation, collar and release at least one wolf when a confirmed depredation occurs in an area where wolves haven’t been previously collared and where it can’t determine which wolves were involved in the depredation; report to FWP when each control action is initiated and terminated and provide the results of every control effort.”
“Wildlife services will be able to make that call right there on the spot and decide the best course of action,” McDonald said.
The two agencies will have to continue to communicate about wolf depredations and management actions, he said. FWP will continue to have the responsibility of managing and monitoring wolf numbers.
“We’re not abdicating any of our wildlife management authority,” McDonald said.
The protocol is proposed as a one-year trial, he said. If it works and is effective, they’ll make it permanent.
County commissioners and tribal leaders have until Sept. 21 to comment on the proposal and point out any major concerns or issues that weren’t properly addressed, he said.