Comment on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park tentative regulations for hunting wolves

Montana FWP has is having 44 (!) public meetings about their state wolf hunting plan — a plan more cautious (probably) than Idaho or Wyoming.

Last night at the meeting in Bozeman, Norm Bishop was one who testified. Bishop was a legendary figure as an intepretive naturalist at Yellowstone before his retirement (he still is!).

I thought folks would want to read his testimony because these points needs to be made by more than one.


Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks January 8, 2008
Attn: Wildlife Division
Public Comment
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tentative regulations for hunting wolves. I am fully in accord with the citizen-developed Montana Wolf Management Plan, and commend FWP for engaging the public in the planning for wolf management.

In a 1944 review of Young and Goldman’s Wolves of North America, Aldo Leopold observed that the authors had written that wolves should be allowed to live somewhere, but that they had, during their decades of work to eliminate wolves from cattle country, NOT allowed wolves to survive anywhere. He said they should have been restocked in Yellowstone. Now that has been done, and hundreds of thousands of park visitors revel in seeing wolves in the wild. Those visitors are spending nearly $80 million in greater Yellowstone annually.

In planning for wolf hunting in Montana, I hope that we can think as Leopold would suggest, that wolves be allowed to live undisturbed in wildlands where there are no conflicts with livestock grazing. With elk populations soaring, I see no current justification to kill wolves just to enhance hunting. By the way, I was a big game hunter from my teens in Colorado to Wyoming in the 1980s and the 1990s to several years ago in Montana. I’m 75.

The downside, biologically, of hunting wolves is that hunting destroys pack integrity. This could actually increase depredation on livestock. Wolves are highly evolved socially, and killing pack leaders may lead to a higher dispersal rate, with more young wolves experimenting with new prey, and with wolves dispersing as far as other states. Studies now under way in Yellowstone suggest that the composition of packs subject to heavy human predation will be qualitatively different than those that are left alone.

Further, hunting wolves, at any percentage, has a very high potential of denying them the possibility of ever being restored to their natural functioning as keystone predators in wild areas. Wolves have been present in North America for 800,000 years, and are an integral part of intact ecosystems.

One of the intriguing functions of wolves could be to save deer from chronic wasting disease. Their mode of taking prey that show weakness is unlike human hunting of deer and elk, that is more indiscriminate. A better known function, observed in greater Yellowstone, is to alter the behavior and habitat use of elk, to the benefit of heavily browsed woody plants, upon which other mammals and birds depend. Thus, they promote biological diversity.

If wolves can sustain 25-30% mortality from humans and still maintain their numbers, but all packs are being hunted, will this preclude the presence of nearby source populations to augment the wolf population? I support the most conservative harvest until questions like this are resolved.

Adaptive management is widely recognized as a process for flexibility in managing wildlife. I hope FWP will begin wolf hunting as an experiment, with robust monitoring, so they can learn from the results of the hunts.

I¹ve been studying and educating people about wolves and their recovery for 25 years, as a Park Ranger in Yellowstone, and as an instructor at the Yellowstone Association Institute. I helped compile data for the 1994 EIS on wolf reintroduction, and helped carry the first wolves into the park. I served on the FWP Wolf Compensation working group in 2005. I¹m a board member of the Wolf Recovery Foundation, which co-sponsors annual interagency wolf conferences. I also serve as the greater Yellowstone field representative of the International Wolf Center.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment.







  1. Kathryn Avatar

    Thank you so much for your insight and wisdom in this situation. You made some excellent points and I think we all pray that this type of testimony will open some eyes in Montana!

  2. Salle Avatar

    Thank you, Norm, for attending and commenting last night. I was unable to attend due to my work schedule. I make a very similar argument whenever I get to comment, though I lack your background and experience.

    I made the same comments about pack dynamics when I attended the wolf advisory committee meeting last month in Helena.

    Thanks for being there! Your voice carries a lot of weight.

  3. TallTrent Avatar

    I attended a meeting here in West Yellowstone on Tuesday night. This mean was a time for the public to comment on several proposed changes in hunting regulations. This was also the first time we were able to comment on Montana’s Proposed Wolf Season.

    I am aware that wolves are going to be hunting. That is going to be part of managing them. I am not against hunting, and this may shock some, I am not totally opposed to a wolf hunt as long as measures are taking to make sure that there is a growing and sustainable population of wolves. Montana’s proposal is actually quite sound as a wildlife management plan document. Montana is centuries ahead of Wyoming and Idaho when it comes to natural resource management.

    Let me tell you a little about the meeting. First, it was surprisingly not very well-attended. It was set to start at 7 pm, so I, naturally, showed up 5-7 minutes early. I was the only member of the public there at that point. Most people did not drift in until about 7:05 or 7:10 and we didn’t start the meeting until about 7:15. In total there were only between 20 and two dozen people at the meeting. The Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks personnel were as surprised as anybody about the low turn-out. I am very impressed with the agency because they are having 44 meeting statewide about this issue. From what the agency personnel were saying, the previous meetings, such as in Bozeman, have been really well-attended and went long and were loud and full of controversy. Here in West Yellowstone, it went very smooth. There were differing opinions on lots of subjects, though some of the changes proposed to elk hunting caused more stir than the wolf issue, but everyone had a chance to speak that wanted to say something.

    I listened intently, had several questions for the agency personnel, and definitely had some comments of my own and responses to several other comments. My major question about wolves was whether the state wanted manage wolves as a growing population (growing at a slower rate than now) or if they wanted to manage them as stable population. The personnel could not answer that question and I really feel that it is the most fundamental question regarding Montana’s future plans for wolves.

    Let me outline the major points I raised about the plan:
    1) Montana’s Wolf Management plan should call for a continually growing wolf population. Wolves should be colonizing new areas of the state to live and anyplace that wolves can live without too much conflict they should be allowed and encouraged to go to. A growing sustainable wolf population is needed in Montana and that should be the focus of managing wolves in the state.
    2) The quota system used to determine when the wolf hunt will end has to include all human-caused wolf morality. Wolves killed because they attack livestock, wolves poached, wolves hit by cars, etc. must all count against that quota. That means if there is too much wolf mortality in a year there may not be a wolf hunting or trapping season or it may be very short.
    3) The $1000 penalty for killing a wolf is a joke. There are definitely those wolf-haters out there who would gladly kill a wolf and risk this penalty. Though most poachers are not caught, as a mostly symbolic act the penalty needs to be severely increased. This would be another sign that wolves in Montana are valued and that the state wants to protect them and preserve them in a sustainable manner.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan